In 2019, when Caglia Environmental saw the need to modernize and expand its MRF to better serve its customers, they worked with CP Manufacturing, The Recycling Partnership, and AMP Robotics to bring it into the future.
Caglia Environmental’s roots in the greater Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley date back almost a century. The company began when owner Richard Caglia’s grandfather purchased the Orange Avenue landfill and started a recycling program that laid the foundation for their company, calling it ‘Fresno Beautiful”. While Earth Day did not officially begin until 1969, Caglia’s grandfather was way ahead of his time in creating this program. Fast forwarding to today, the current municipal administration began their ‘Beautify Fresno’ campaign, of which Caglia Environmental are heavy supporters. “We always try to be a step ahead of the curve, whether participating in beautification programs or implementing fire protection standards at our facility. We pride ourselves on being a leader in the industry,” says Caglia.
Caglia Environmental services many residential communities, business communities, shopping centers, schools, and a number of municipalities, not only under its flagship name, but also under its subsidiaries, IWS, Red Rock, and CARTS—the Cedar Avenue Recycling and Transfer Station—which was developed and built on the backside of the landfill in 2004. Slowly growing the business for the last 20+ years in municipal solid waste services industry for residents and businesses, Caglia Environmental handles all the city of Fresno’s solid waste and processes half of the city recyclables. The company also has a strong presence in Central California in the San Joaquin Valley serving the Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare, and Kings Counties. “In 2011 the city privatized commercial solid waste and even though we are not one of those franchise haulers, they are required to bring the solid waste to our facility under contract,” says Caglia. “In 2012, we bid on a contract in Madera County, hauling under the name of Red Rock Environmental. We also operate the Fairmead Landfill and the North Fork Transfer Station for Madera County and the mountain communities.”
While the company has a green waste partner who recycles some material collected, Caglia Environmental recycles C&D and does methane gas energy capture on the now closed Orange Avenue Landfill. They also process food waste and green waste partnering with Fresno Metro Ministries Food to Share program to find outlets for edible food and get it into the hands of those families that are less fortunate.
Ready for an Upgrade
While the company built their existing MRF to better serve their local municipalities in Fresno, Caglia says that in 2019 they saw the need to modernize and expand the facility. Caglia points out, “We saw the need to go big or go home.” CP Manufacturing and Caglia Environmental had been in regular communication for this and other projects. “The preliminary conversations were surrounding glass and OCC recovery,” says Branden Sidwell, Sales Engineer for CP Manufacturing. “After exploring these options, we wanted to look at further improvements. We finally reached a point where it looked like it would be beneficial to do a complete retrofit of the MRF.”
Michael Ledieff, CARTS Division Manager, led the charge to start the process. “I came in as the ink was drying on the agreement with CP Manufacturing to upgrade the facility. The plan was to implement new mechanical sorting systems as well as infrared sorting with the optical sorters. We had a commercial line that was humming along at 15 tons per hour, so we needed something different that could address all of the legislation going on when it comes to waste diversion from landfill as well as cleaning up the commodity stream to make material more marketable for the mills to which we were going.”
Early construction was scheduled to begin in March 2020—right around when COVID exploded. “It was a very interesting time to start a significant construction project—remodeling our MRF while dealing with COVID and trying to operate our facility to the best of our ability without having another MRF,” said Ledieff. “Fortunately, we were able to partner with another processor in California and use a small sort line so we could continue our landfill diversion with a commodities facility.”
Sidwell agrees, “We engineered, manufactured, and installed this MRF in the midst of COVID. This really made us work outside of our norms.”
Starting the Process
The facility was gutted with the steel structure put in first. Working with CP Manufacturing, upgraded systems included two new disc screens, four optical sorters, an auger screen, and an eddy current, which allowed the facility to process between 25 and 35 tons per hour, up from 10 to 12 tons per hour. They worked from the back of the facility to the front with the larger pieces like the optical sorters installed first, then the mechanical sorters, followed by the rest of the systems, like the robotics, which were installed around Mother’s Day weekend 2022. They were also able to decrease burden depth by separating the two separate fractions on presort, helping sorters keep safe. The burden depth of the material on presort is much less so sorters can see what they are grabbing, and it keeps them safe from hitting anything that might cause injuries as well as helping to make sure that they are able to grab all of the large prohibitive materials so they do not end up downstream and damage the system. From there, Ledieff says there are two-disc screens and an AWS and CP screen that does the 2-D and 3-D separation. “We also did purchase optical sorters that would be processing papers. The FiberMax and PlasticMax is from MSS, so there is a lot of automation right out front.”
At that time, Caglia Environmental had a manual quality control line, so they were still using a lot of human labor. However, when they kicked off the construction project in March 2020, labor became a challenge. “When you have 22 people you are trying to stack your line with, and there is a pandemic happening, it does not work. We used a lot of temp labor and there were still times when our crew would call our labor agency and ask for 10 to 15 people for a particular shift and only half of them would show up. We had instances whereby the time that we had the first break or lunch hour, the other half would pull off their gloves, turn in their safety gear and say I don’t like this job and they would just leave the rest of the crew hanging,” says Caglia.
One of CARTS’ commodity buyers made Ledieff aware of The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition, which offers grant funding to MRFs of all sizes for equipment to improve the sortation of polypropylene (PP). Ledieff and his team pursued the grant opportunity through The Recycling Partnership, and CARTS was ultimately awarded funding. “When we were approached about the polypropylene recovery grant, we were already talking about our staffing issues and how to address it on a permanent basis,” says Ledieff.” “While we used a combination of both permanent employees as well as temp agencies, we could not get to a point where we were fully staffed at all times, so ended up looking at AI and robots. It was always something that was in the back of my mind, and I wanted to see it happen. The Recycling Partnership’s Polypropylene Recycling Coalition grant really sparked our interest because we did have a polypropylene-specific line.”
The Recycling Partnership is solving for circularity by mobilizing people, data and solutions across the value chain to unlock the environmental and economic benefits of recycling and the circular economy. The Recycling Partnership’s Paying It Forward report estimates the U.S. needs to invest $3 billion to upgrade and expand MRF infrastructure. “In order to truly support circularity, we knew MRF modernization has to be part of our investment. We have a dedicated Director of MRF Advancement that is the main point of contact who worked closely with and continues to stay in touch with Mike Ledieff throughout the process,” says Brittany LaValley, Director of Circular Ventures at The Recycling Partnership. “We support MRFs from initial conversations about investments they may need at their MRF all the way through continued touchpoints post-granting. The level of support needed varies by MRF and Caglia is an example of a group that knew what it needed to make holistic upgrades and were just looking for leveraged funding support via our MRF grants program.”
The initial challenge with this project was aligning with Caglia on what success looks like for polypropylene recovery via The Recycling Partnership’s granting initiative. Explained LaValley, “Once we were aligned and had a shared understanding of the scope and value of PP that can be recovered, we moved to award the grant funds.”
After being awarded the grant in round three, Caglia Environmental vetted all the different options available for AI and robot companies and partnered with AMP Robotics on the best solution for implementation after several facility visits and working with the team. “Not only did we pick up a robot for our polypropylene quality control, but we also have one for aluminum and HDPE quality control and our last chance line. So, not only did we go into whole remodel of the MRF, but we went all in on AI to mitigate our deficit of labor, re-allocating people to other places like presort, so we can get that debris out of the system before it comes downstream,” states Ledieff. AMP Robotics’ vision technology relies on a neural network that uses deep learning to continuously train itself by processing millions of images of packaging and container types into data. The software uses pattern recognition of colors, textures, shapes, sizes, and logos to infer in real-time the recyclable materials and contamination in sortation environments. “It identifies those packaging materials that are made with HDPE, PET, polypropylene—that is one of the big components that made this system very attractive to us. They are able to see a grade of plastic that the human eye can’t see and that robot gets that plastic off that would not normally be removed. I think with all the single-use plastic bans and the lack of communications between the manufacturers, haulers, communities, and municipalities, these systems are especially beneficial because the machine can see what type of material it is and what grade it is, and it gets it off the line when normally the material would be going to a landfill.”
Even though CARTS has reduced its labor force somewhat thanks to the deployment of this technology, the robots were never meant to replace human labor, but rather to fill gaps and hard-to-hire-for positions. Placing a robot on the last-chance line eliminated the staffing issue in that part of the MRF. Following the robots’ installation, CARTS was able to reallocate manual sorters from quality control to other areas of the operation. “Robots can be superior to humans in quality controlling polypropylene given how many form factors the material comes in. It’s a challenging task for a human, and can be a full-time job, which is problematic in a tight labor market. AMP’s neural network recognizes 50 billion objects on an annual basis—a number that continues to exponentially increase as our install base expands,” says Chris Wirth, Vice President of Marketing and Industry and Government Relations for AMP Robotics. “AMP’s vision technology counts more than 4.5 million discrete polypropylene materials daily. Plus, the AI platform is constantly learning and improving its ability to recognize and sort different objects made of polypropylene, along with a wide variety of other recyclables. Along with installing and commissioning the robots in three days—over the course of a weekend so as not to impact production—AMP supports Caglia with a personalized customer success plan with custom data analyses for four material streams, along with an online service portal and 24/7 technical support.”
Although the process was challenging, especially building the facility in the middle of COVID and not knowing what the next day was going to bring from staffing to supply chain issues, Ledieff says working with CP Manufacturing was also a great experience. “They had a great line of communication with not only the sales staff, but also the project engineering staff. Even the CEO of the company was always available and sensitive to our needs in a complicated time.”
On the Cutting Edge
Modernizing the MRF allowed Caglia Environmental to double their processing capacity so they were able to satisfy more customers that were not happy with other local service providers, while staying ahead of local and state recycling mandates. Says Sidwell, “We improved the CARTS MRF from running 12 or so TPH with pretty low material recovery and purity to 30 TPH with great material recovery and purity rates.”
“The timing of this upgrade worked out well especially as we look towards the future, with state legislation coming through and having to be on the cutting edge of organics and plastic recycling. We came out of the gate swinging with our partnerships with AMP and CP and the fact that we can find new municipalities and comply with local and state law is one of the things that makes us unique,” says Ledieff. “The doors are always open to show our partners and officials what we are doing.”
“Any investment in a MRF, even if it’s just focused on one material, ends up supporting better recovery of multiple materials in the stream. It certainly fits the adage that a rising tide lifts all boats. The scope of the upgrades Caglia has made is impressive and is truly allowing them to process and recover more and create cleaner bales. The facility’s ability to process materials effectively and efficiently means residents can trust that when they’re placing recyclables in their bins, those recyclables are effectively sorted, captured and sold to be turned into new products,” said LaValley. “The level of efficiency and amount of recovered material has certainly increased for Caglia since they upgraded their system. Their approach and commitment are admirable and they’re a great model for demonstrating what is possible with investment.”
Once the project started, Caglia Environmental made sure to communicate with their surrounding neighbors on what was coming since there was a lot of material that the company was stockpiling for processing in the facility. When the MRF was completed, it was received fantastically. “They love it,” says Caglia. “Mike and I were talking about holding a community event because many of them heard about our ribbon cutting ceremony with the press and they wanted to know more about the types of things that we were doing.” Caglia says that they gave more tours of their facilities during the pandemic than ever before because many parents were at home with their kids who would see the garbage trucks go by and wanted to know more about where they would go after they collected the garbage. “I received a call from many moms that wanted to give their kids a tour of the facilities, so they could see what goes on after the material gets picked up and that was really fun to do. The kids were fascinated with it and the technologies used to sort material—getting kids to see it and understand it is great,” says Caglia.
He emphasizes that the company has other processes that they will be upgrading and building further into helping local municipalities be more compliant with SB1383 as more organics come out of the landfill. “CalRecycle is requiring municipalities to show that they have the processing capacity all the way out to 2035 and then 2050. Right now, if you tie all local processing facilities together, the city of Fresno is currently not in compliance with processing those tonnages. There are at least 110 facilities in the state of California that are going to be going through the expansion necessary to show CalRecycle that they have the process and capacity for all the new tons.” Caglia says that wood waste, agricultural waste, and C&D wood waste is another critical element they are addressing since it is looked at as organic and they cannot take it to the landfill any longer, but rather use it for cover material and get diversion credit. “There are some facilities that are re-modifying and upgrading their facilities to get a better handle on those materials and get a better reuse out of them. There are also gasification projects and digester projects where we are working with our municipality to ensure that we have the best technology, are up to speed, and serve them well, so they can show CalRecycle that they have the processes and capacity going out to 2035. However, as the legislation starts to tighten, we will have to come up with some alternative methods,” he comments.
CP assisted Caglia Environmental with improved commodity recovery rates, expected commodity market pricing, headcount reduction, and increase in throughput. From there, they started working on the system design and financial modeling. While CP have had a relationship with Caglia Environmental for several years now, this particular project was about two years in the making—going from serious conversations, to modeling, contractual agreements, engineering, and constructions. “Ultimately, the benefit of modernizing the Caglias’ facility is the recovery of recyclables and diversion from landfill. This isn’t as simple as just throwing money at the problem, it has to make economic sense as well. CP provided Caglia with a package that would create better products, but would also do so with less labor per ton, offsetting capital costs,” explains Sidwell. “The use of machines before sorters not only helps with recovery, but also protects sorters from injury as well. This new generation of screens and optical sorters has been geared towards minimal maintenance requirements and a safe environment.”
The overall investment that the Caglia family made shows that the company cares about the well-being, safety, engagement, and retention of their employees. Not only did they upgrade the MRF equipment, but they also invested in new breakrooms and new bathrooms. During COVID, Caglia Environmental held barbecues and gave out a lot of take-home meals vouchers for pizzas, etc. “We respected the employees who still came into work day in and day out because they believed in what we were doing and appreciated the changes that the Caglia family had made to benefit their work conditions,” says Caglia proudly. “When anyone comes in to visit our facility, we are proud to say they always compliment our cleanliness because we take a lot of pride in what we do—not only in modernizing the facility, but also the little things we did for our employees.” | WA
For more information on Caglia Environmental, contact Richard Caglia at (559) 233-1158.
For more information on AMP Robotics, visit www.amprobotics.com.
For more information on CP Group, visit www.cpgrp.com.
For more information on grants available through The Recycling Partnership’s, visit recyclingpartnership.org.