"Never mind, we'll do it." It's not the most inspiring environmental slogan, but it might be the wave of the future.
Exhorting households to sort their recyclables often fails to convince families to actually do that. Curbside pickup of beverage containers and newspapers, particularly if the materials can't be intermingled, strains the budgets of many local governments. Beverages in aluminum and plastic containers are increasingly slurped and tossed away from home.
That leaves the technology option, which goes something like this Expect such materials to end up in the trash but retrieve them at the transfer station or the landfill intake.
Most MRFs (material recovery facilities) handle only materials collected as recyclables from households and public places. But a few MRFs tackle the actual raw trash. After 18 months of operation, a joint-venture MRF of this sort—involving Novelis Inc. and the whimsically spelled Prfection Engineering LLC—is ready for germination elsewhere, according to Steve Viny, Prfection's principal.
Atlanta-based Novelis is a major aluminum sheet producer that last year recovered about 40 billion aluminum cans, weighing more than 500,000 tonnes, worldwide. But Novelis has been aiming for a better recycling ratio and helped with the Dayton, Ohio, MRF project, called MiniMRF LLC.
"We designed the equipment for 50 (short) tons per hour. We've been able to achieve that," Viny said. The aluminum cans that get recovered go, naturally, to Novelis, while other metallics are sold to Ferrous Processing & Trading Co., a scrapyard company with headquarters in Detroit. An output stream of organics, despite being flawed for some purposes by powdered glass, is useful to landfills themselves for topping off each day's intake of trash. The tag for that use is "alternative daily cover."
Prfection assembled its equipment from an assortment of vendors. "Some of it we imported from Europe. Some is from the U.S. Even the equipment we import, we modify once we get it here," Viny said. He wouldn't offer cost figures. "Right now, I'd rather not comment on the economics," Viny said.
For guessing at size order, a consultant's report to an Oregon county said last year that trash-based "dirty" MRFs, in a different context, have capital costs around $40,000 for each short ton of daily capacity and operating costs around $40 per ton.
Viny, now 52 years old, has been involved in Ohio waste handling since his early 20s. He is the second generation in his family in a business that started with landfills, then a transfer station, and then a hauling company.
One of the associated companies has run a waste diversion facility in Seville, Ohio, since 1993. It handles half the quantity of the Dayton plant but produces a longer list of recyclable output streams. "We recover organics as compost. We recover wood that we turn into natural mulch. We recover lumber which is turned into color-enhanced mulch. We recover ferrous metal, nonferrous metal, plastics, cardboard, newspaper, mixed paper, glass. We recover an engineered fuel fraction," Viny said, describing the older MRF.
The fuel comes from light paper and from plastic film. "We can make it into a fluff. We can put it into pellets. We can bale it (into larger cubes) for densification and handling purposes," he said, although production of the fuel product has been dropped temporarily by the Seville facility because last year's economic slump forced the cement kiln that was using it to suspend operations. "We are awaiting their reopening," he said.
Unlike the recently established MiniMRF plant in Dayton, the older Seville operation includes some hand sorting, with employees picking out fiber, wood and plastics from conveyor lines. The basic diversion rate from landfill at Seville is 18 to 20 percent, Viny said. When the engineered fuel has an active market, that sends another 20 to 25 percent to a useful destination. Another 8 to 10 percent is material that can be used as yard waste composting.
The MiniMRF project in Dayton, backed by Novelis, is in a county that already provides pickups of recyclables. "They do have curbside recycling (from homes) in Montgomery County, so this is a sort of MRF of last resort," Viny said. Maybe the beverage was consumed in a public place where the only discard option was a garbage can. Or maybe the consumer was lazy.
"Novelis contacted me and said they were interested in developing an MRF that would extract aluminum from the waste stream. Their studies indicated that there was still quite a bit of aluminum left, even after curbside recycling. And they want those UBCs (used beverage cans)," Viny said. "Novelis forced me to put my thinking cap on and we came up with what we view as sort of the next-generation mixed processing facility."
One reason Viny came to Novelis' attention is that the 1993-vintage facility in Seville isn't far from Novelis' traditional U.S. headquarters. Earlier this year, Novelis decided to shift its national headquarters to Atlanta.
Now MiniMRF LLC wants to market the technology. "If you want to buy it, we'll sell it. If you want us to be the developer, we'll own it and operate it. We can go either way," Viny said. He also is willing to configure an upgraded miniMRF to provide raw material for waste-to-energy generating stations, with extra modules to remove glass and high-moisture organics.