When planning for a retrofit, know what end markets are available so you can make sure your system can adjust and be flexible in the future.
By Mark Neitzey

So, your company just renegotiated an extension of your contract with the city by committing to an upgrade of your 15-year-old MRF. Congratulations! You may feel overwhelmed by everything you need to consider. However, this is a good “problem” to have. First, you will want to nail down your plan for handling your material while your retrofit is being installed.

If you have the storage space, you may be able to bale inbound material and stash it away until the new system is running. If you do not have quite enough space, can you erect a temporary system, or process the volume to recover large old corrugated cardboard (OCC), remove glass, and bale the rest until you are operational? If none of those are possible, you can ask another company to process material for you. Just be sure to negotiate the associated costs as well as the distribution of revenue.

If you already have a building for the MRF, you need to know the length, width, clear height, and column spacing of the area. This greatly influences the design and equipment that can be included. If it is an option, consider a greenfield building so as not to be restricted in the design. If not, just make sure your existing building has the proper zoning and utility service for a MRF.

Optical sorter with artificial intelligence laser recognition. Photos courtesy of Van Dyk Recycling Solutions.

Composition and Volume
To ensure the new retrofit meets the processing requirements, you need to know the input composition and the volume of the material you will be processing. For the composition, consult your past audits. Do not have any? See if the previous contract holder does or if the municipality will allow you to do multiple hand audits of route trucks over a period of time to get data samples from the community. Knowing the unique characteristics in your area will help you determine what sorting strategies you need to invest in. Is there a bottle bill in your state, or a high volume of film coming from residents? Think about how radically the stream has changed in the last 10 years (less old newspaper and more OCC), and even in the last three years (even more OCC and takeout trays). Do you see more changes on the horizon?

When estimating the volume you will be processing, factor in any population growth that is projected in your area for the next five to 10 years, and the possibility of additional contracts to service nearby cities. If your new contract includes material from commercial businesses, consider how much commercial volume is available and how you intend to process it. If you intend to run both residential and commercial materials on the same system, you can blend them together or keep them separate on the tipping floor.

Automated container line with optical sorting.

Designing a system these days is all about automation and artificial intelligence. How many optical sorters or robots you invest in depends on how much sorting your material needs and what end products you intend on making. Just remember, you cannot expect an optical sorter or robot to produce a perfect product on its own. The material you process must be prepared properly for these devices and that takes design expertise, space, and capital. Your retrofit designer can help you parse this out. You may also consider other forms of automation to make your new system more efficient. Automated storage bunkers can save you the time and labor of manually pushing commodities to the baler feed conveyors. A central conveyance system can collect all trash in one place, eliminating multiple trash points. A “last chance” recovery optical programmed at the end of the line to capture any missed recyclables can be more productive than a manual recovery station. And if you invest in two balers, you give yourself a built-in safety factor that, in the case of baler downtime, every commodity could be baled in either baler without reducing the speed of the system.

As you are contemplating the equipment you will need to achieve the desired level of automation, also calculate how many mechanics, operators, and manual sorters you will need to run the system. Research labor trends in your area. Know the going wage, the available labor pool, and the largest employers and what they are paying. If a company like Amazon is a popular employer in your area, realize you likely will not attract quality workers to do a much dirtier job for a lower wage.



Automatic bunkers store material waiting to be baled.
Right: Blended fiber grade.

Build for Flexibility
Always keep in mind that you are planning and building for flexibility. Markets change. End customers change. Make sure your system can adjust and be flexible in the future. Maybe plan to sort two different grades of OCC that could be baled separately at times or blended at times. Maybe aim for an extremely clean fiber product that could be blended with mixed paper or baled separately.

Know what end markets are available to you and even plan for one or two backups for each commodity. Know the quality of material that each requires and the specifications you need to meet to earn top dollar. Some even offer a premium for exceeding those specs. Verify that each end market is set to accept material for the foreseeable future (the length of your contract) or plan accordingly. If you are able to load railroad cars or to load shipping containers on a nearby rail service, you can expand your possibilities. | WA

Mark Neitzey is Director of Sales for Van Dyk Recycling Solutions. Mark has been involved in more than 100 recycling equipment projects over the last two decades, including: simple roll cutting and baling sites, large baling systems, wood waste screening, C&D sorting systems, automated MSW/fuel systems, commercial sorting systems, PET/Plastics sorting systems, single stream sorting systems and system retrofits. Mark lives in Houston, TX and travels throughout North America, gaining a broad perspective on the industry and its current trends. He can be reached at (203) 967-1100 or e-mail [email protected].