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Rumpke Waste & Recycling announced plans in February to build a $50 million recycling facility in Columbus, Ohio, incorporating cutting-edge technology to develop what the materials recovery facility operator ( Cincinnati-based MRF) is said to be the most technologically advanced recycling center in the United States.
The facility is expected to be operational in 2024, and recycling manager Jeff Snyder, a 29-year veteran in the recycling industry who has worked at Rumpke for more than two years, said it’s not enough to just look two years in the future when the MRF is online. Rather, the idea was to take into account the evolution of the recycling stream, leaving room for technological and operational improvements in the future to improve recovery rates.
“I’m not just happy with what we did yesterday. I want to know what we can do tomorrow and what’s on the horizon,” says Snyder, adding that when he had the opportunity to develop the new 60-tonne-per-hour facility that can serve the center and northern Ohio, the next step was finding the right technology.
“The opportunity then becomes the technology available on the market to be able to make it the most technologically advanced facility in North America,” he says. “That’s what I challenged myself with.”
Snyder says he traveled across the country, visiting MRFs from the east coast to the west coast “and everywhere in between,” and met with machine builders to stay up to date with the latest technology, learning about the robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and other sorting technologies to integrate this knowledge and experience into the new Columbus facility.
“When you want to increase your revenue and want to be on the cutting edge of adding more products that can be removed from the waste stream, you have to think about the technology available in the market,” says Snyder.
Rumpke ultimately chose Machinex Technologies Inc., a North Carolina-based recycling equipment supplier, along with construction company Elford Inc. and Columbus-based architect Moody Nolan, the region’s president. of Rumpke East, Andrew Rumpke, stating at the time of the announcement, “We take our partnerships very seriously because they have a lasting impact on our business and our community.”
Snyder adds: “I will not build this facility for two years, when we will be operational. I want to design this facility so that you can follow a recycling stream in 15 or 20 years. »
A look at technology
Snyder says that when it comes to sorting, he wanted to take some of the burden off the pre-sorting tape, so the facility is setting up a sizing trommel. “I can take all this equipment [and] instead of spitting it out on one treadmill, I can spit it out on three treadmills,” he says. “I can take all this material and cut it down by size.”
He adds: “It allows us to see the material better so that we can sort it properly. It also helps to get the glass out of the system on the first thing.
It was also important to limit downtime and maintenance as much as possible.
The Columbus facility will include 19 optical sorters as well as ballistic separators to further separate materials and eliminate the need for screens, which typically require high maintenance. “There will be a bank of six optical sorters that will clean the fiber, so we are doing the fiber and plastic separation with optical sorters instead of what was traditionally done with screens,” says Snyder.
“This MRF will not have screens,” he adds. “All the sorting will be done with ballistics and optics.”
One of the innovations Snyder is most proud of is the implementation of AI for use with optical sorters. Because optics cannot decipher between different grades of clear polyethylene terephthalate (PET), for example, AI technology, according to Snyder, will not only identify the material by what the light spectrum sees in the optical sorter, but by shape , color and size. “It gives the optics even more opportunities to make the right decisions,” he says.
In facilities without advanced sorting technology, the material usually ends up being baled together, with Snyder estimating that about 90% of facilities in the United States bale different grades of PET. It’s not a knock on those rigs – in fact, Snyder notes that’s pretty standard in the industry. “What I’m going to do with this facility is separate clear PET from colored PET from thermoformed, so instead of one grade of PET we’ll have three.”
The Columbus facility will also attempt to deal with plastic bags that inevitably end up in the recycling stream despite not being accepted at MRFs. Snyder says his team is designing suction devices, or receiving pipes, in several of the optical sorters to remove the bags from the airflow and put them in a holding bin that will feed a baler to collect the bags. .
Snyder says one of the most unique aspects of the facility will be its sampling capability, as municipalities will be able to come to Rumpke to analyze their recycling programs for various materials or contaminations. Traditionally, this type of analysis has to be done by manual sorting, but the new recycling center will have the technology to take some of the materials from a particular city, town or county, make them go through a system and, in less than an hour, report the exact percentage of products in a particular recycling program.
“It really helps people improve, doesn’t it?” Snyder says. “If I’m a city manager or mayor and want to know how I’m doing on recycling, this can really help you do that, and you can do that over time to see how you’re doing. “
He adds, “Usually when you ask for this type of audit, it’s painful because it’s very manual. They disrupted operations. It’s just very hard to do. In this installation, we are going to design this in such a way that it is not difficult to do. »
Design for the future
Rumpke encourages innovation, Snyder says, wanting to stay on the cutting edge of recycling. “When you have 14 landfills, authorizing landfills is very difficult today [and] you need to save space for these landfills so you can run your business,” he adds. “When you’re a waste and recycling business, it’s important to save airspace for what needs to be used as waste, and one way we can do that is to take recyclables out of the landfill. “
Snyder continues, “So how can we become innovative suppers, come up with ideas not only to add more products to the recycling stream, but also to increase revenue by deepening the recycling stream and making more quality products? that can go to our end users? That’s what drives it [innovation].”
Improving recovery rate was key in the design of the MRF, and Rumpke learned a great deal from the operations of his Cincinnati MRF. Snyder says the company needs to reinvest in this MRF, which is nearly nine years old, to keep up with the change in containers, noting that they are seeing more glass, more PET and more used beverage cans going through the line than them. have never seen before. “If you’re trying to follow that and there’s less paper and the flow changes, what do you need to invest in capital-wise to follow that flow? … You have to be mindful of that.
“If people make the effort to make the decision to put a bottle of water in the recycling bin and it gets thrown on our floor at the MRF and we have a responsibility to sort it, then I think we should be able to sort everything. that,” he said. “We need to design the MRF and the sorting equipment in such a way that we can recover 98% of the material that comes to the MRF.”
Snyder adds, “You’ve got to have the equipment and you’ve got to have throughput and you’ve got to have the maintenance – you’ve got to have all of those things for that to happen.”