Thursday, April 28, 2011

A look at where your recyclables get processed

I just received permission from Waste Management to post these photos, so now I can take you inside a materials recovery facility (MRF, pronounced murf). This one's in north Minneapolis.

This MRF processes 50 tons of materials an hour -- one of the highest volumes in the United States. And it's astounding to see in person.
This MRF processes 10 percent commercial and 85-90 percent residential single-stream recyclables.

These men are pulling off anything that's not corrugated cardboard. It was very cold this day, and I felt bad for them that they were working in this unheated area.

This MRF can store only a day and a half's worth of material. It typically turns around 700 to 900 tons in a 24-hour period.

You can't see, but on this particular conveyer belt there was a lot of shredded paper scattered all over everything.

Look at the bales below.

The busiest times of year: fall, holidays (as much as 20,000 tons), spring cleanup and the end of the school year.

Star screens separate containers from paper. (hard to see the stars because they're spinning so fast) The main message that this MRF wants you to know: do not put your recyclables in plastic bags. Those bags wreak havoc on these star screens, and it takes 45 minutes to clear out those plastic bags.

These conveyer belts move very, very fast. These sorting rooms do have heat.

Waste Management may soon start collecting #1-7 plastic containers as well as aseptic (soy milk container) and gable top (milk carton) containers -- a $10 million investment. They don't look at collecting items unless there's a stable end market. The representatives told us that there's a company in Wisconsin using #3-7 plastics to make black paint cans for Home Depot.

Bales of aluminum cans.

Bales of paper.

A new star on the left, and the wear on a star after 500 hours of usage.

Waste Management has an extensive education room at its MRF. Here are some of the displays.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Recycling at the Minneapolis Convention Center

An impressive list of sustainability initiatives at the Minneapolis Convention Center, but they could do a better job of recycling during events.

Dear Convention Center, I love your recycling stations. Now please buy MORE of them and put them prominently on all of your floors and in all of your exhibition spaces! Thank you!

It's a wonderful recycling/disposal set-up, and on the main floor of the convention center they're sprinkled around liberally. But go down a few flights into the Lower Level, and the recycling setups get a lot more scarce.

Look at these lonnnng rows -- with nary a recycling bin in sight. Plenty of trash bins, though.

I was there during the Pet Expo helping out at Pet Crossing's booth.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Reuse those wire hangers

Spotted at the Martinizing Dry Cleaning at 56th and Xerxes in Minneapolis. Even though it says they'll recycle the hangers, I'm pretty sure they intend to reuse them. I'll have to call to make sure.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Checking in with Minnetonka High School

Minnetonka High School relaunched its organics program two weeks ago with new signs and new stations.

"3 (compostables), 2 (bottles and cans), 1 (trash), you're done" was the slogan they were using, based on what was used in the elementary and middle schools.

The idea behind stacking the Styrofoam trays was to save space in the trash bags.

After 1 week, Andre and I went back to weigh the lunchroom waste to compare it with the pre-launch waste back in March.

Lots of recycling going on.

Lots of organics were collected in one week.

This 96-gallon cart was just about full, and at each lunch 4 of these carts get used.

Styrofoam trays.

On this return visit, one week after the relaunch, the stations had been modified -- actual items (e.g., milk carton, chip bag) were taped onto the respective organics and trash signs. Other aspects of the program needed tweaking as well.

Overall the relaunch has been successful, with 18 bags of trash vs. 60 bags of trash previously, and 235.5 pounds of organics diverted from the waste stream (trash was still 137.5 pounds but was 468.3 pounds last month before the relaunch). But that was with adults present at each lunch, monitoring the bins and helping students sort their stuff, so the real test will be when we go back in 1 week to do another weigh-in after the kids have been monitor-less for 2 weeks. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Master Recyclers in the making

Hennepin County's first Master Recycler/Composter classes started a couple of weeks ago, and the program's off to a great start. Here are scenes from the recycling processes class.

Doug Jewett from PPL (Project for Pride in Living) spoke about mattress recycling. Read about PPL's program here and here.

PPL runs a social enterprise recycling program that trains and employs hard-to-employ people. PPL started recycling mattresses in 2008, and is only the third mattress recycler in the country. They're talking to manufacturers such as Sealy to get them to make mattresses with recyclability in mind.

An estimated 65,000 to 78,000 mattresses a year are eligible for recycling in Hennepin County, and PPL has just started to scratch the surface. The city of Minneapolis alone generates an average of 78 mattresses for disposal per day. Because of PPL's (and Hennepin County's) efforts, 1,350,000 pounds of material (which translates to 22,000 mattresses) have been diverted from landfills and the waste-to-energy incinerator to date. PPL anticipates recycling 28,000 mattresses by the end of this year, and they expect to recycle 36,000 to 39,000 mattresses by 2012.

Mattresses consist of metal, cotton, foam, wood, fabric and shoddy (a mixture of foam, cotton and poly fill). Along the way Doug has run into hurdles. He had to design a custom baler to handle the steel coils. The wood frames are packed with staples, so a customized wood chipper that's magnetized to handle the staples has to be used.

PPL also handles It's In the Bag, which handles 22,000 to 28,000 pounds of plastic bags and film per month. The material goes to Trex, which uses it to make plastic decking.

This was one of Doug's slides. The bottom picture shows rows of steel bales.

The custom baler for handling the steel coils.

Lots and lots of staples in these wood frames.

David Speidel from Rock Tenn talked about the recycled paper-making process. At Rock Tenn, 2.2 million tons of post-consumer paper go into making 30 grades of recycled paper every year. They export a lot to China because Asia uses so much packaging. He also said the price of cardboard got to $145/ton and then plummeted to $20/ton during the recession 3 years ago.

Two of their post-consumer paper products.

An example of what Rock Tenn's products are made into.

Jim Wollschlager from Randy's Environmental Services discussed the recycling process at their MRF (materials recovery facility). He said Randy's SSO (source-separated organics) programs are intensifying. They're collecting organics from 18 schools and 40 businesses.

Jim Wollschlager and Terry Nichols from Trident Polymers also gave presentations at the recycling-markets update, which I blogged about in March.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brooklyn Center EarthFest goes zero-waste

The city of Brooklyn Center recently hosted its EarthFest, which was zero waste. Through the coordinators' extensive planning, the event held at the high school produced very little trash.

I loved this sign!

And I really loved these creatively made name tags, repurposed from cereal boxes.

Hennepin County's info table.

Katie Jones, rear, and Rose Buss, fellow GreenCorps members.

Emily Bowers, GreenCorps member for the city of Brooklyn Park.

Vinai Market was giving away fresh spring rolls! Mmmmm

Charly Kearns, GreenCorps member with Three Rivers Park District.

Boy Scout manning his zero-waste station.

The Scouts did a fantastic job helping people sort their waste.

Chipotle, which was giving away free chips and guac, was very popular.

Ginny Black, organics recycling specialist with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Katie Jones works with Clean Energy Resource Teams (CERTs).

A really cool recycling quiz from the city of Brooklyn Center! I was impressed with the comprehensiveness of the options.

Ellie Jones working the Hennepin County table. We gathered recycling surveys from residents in addition to answering questions.

Note the full bag of organics and the tiny trash can in front.

Four full bags of organics, one bag of bottles and cans.

And one bag of trash.