On Wednesday, February 29, I was able to tour the Plano Material Recovery Facility (MRF) located at 4200 East 14th Street in Plano. The MRF is run by Republic Services/Allied Waste, and has a contract with a number of cities throughout Collin County to collect, sort, bundle, and redistribute recycled waste products ranging from paper (including corrugated) and plastics to metals and glass to a variety of industrial customers. The MRF processes over 130 tons of recycled material daily, but has the capacity when running at all three shifts to sort and bundle over 300 tons.
It's a remarkable facility in it's entire operation. Republic Services and Allied Waste recycling trucks drop off products daily at the facility, where huge front loaders scoop up the material and drop it into a hopper which takes it up through the first of many conveyer systems on the first start of the sorting process. The first sorting step involves corrugated paperboard and cardboard, typically the heaviest among the recycled materials. The remaining material then continues to go through the conveyor line as lighter and material with less mass continues to be sorted out. All of the material is eventually bailed and deposited on trucks which weigh the recycled products for the eventual industrial consumer.
One challege that the MRF continues to have to contend with are thin-film plastic shopping bags, the type one finds at discount and grocery stores. Those products, along with Styrofoam, are true waste for the landfill and should never be added to the recycling bin. Not only does this contaminate a recycled load that ultimately ends up being re-diverted to the landfill since the equipment isn't designed to sort out the thinnest film plastics that make up the bags, but the bags themselves get caught in the conveyor systems forcing them to be shut down 2 - 3 times daily in order to have the bags cleared from the rollers. A line shut down costs Republic Services $35/minute; in addition to that, there is limited space to store the unsorted recycled material and the bales of product that are shipped out, so shutting down the sorting line has an almost immediate impact on the amount of material that starts to pile up in queue.
Industrial buyers of the recycled material are global; much of the product is immediately shipped off for eventual use in China. Once the largest product recycled by volume, newsprint has been greatly reduced with glass at nearly the same volume of material being recycled as paper products, followed by plastics and metals.
Hats off to Kim Soto of the City of Plano for arranging the tour and to Tommy Kirk, the MRF manager, for taking us through the facility and explaining the process steps. Every ton that gets sent through there is one less ton that ends up in our muncipal landfills.
The Sustainability Steward