The new $20 million system for recycling trash from homes, at the company's 36-acre Anaheim facility, replaces a 20-year-old sorting system for. The result? The sorting capacity soars from 20 tons per hour to 50, with just six more pairs of human hands.
Republic Services employees pull items from the recycling that should have been put in the trash bin.
Before, it was 70 percent.
And a high recovery rate is important – for the environment and for keeping cities successful in meeting state law for how much trash is getting diverted from landfills. In Orange County, Republic Services is the contracted waste hauler for Anaheim, Brea, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Placentia, Villa Park and Yorba Linda.
While all meet the current requirement of 50 percent, Republic Services spokeswoman Brenda McGuire said the mandated 75 percent by 2020 would be hard to hit without these technology advances.
It all starts with trucks bearing loads collected from curbside recycling bins pulling up to the new eight-bay docking system in the 160,000-square-foot covered building on Blue Gum Street just north of the 91 freeway.
The unsorted materials take a ride up conveyor belts. A series of churning screens (six where there were two before) glean larger pieces of cardboard and bulky items and shift items by size onto awaiting conveyor belts that whisk materials away for further sorting using magnets, optical sensors and, in a few sections, people.
One new key feature is that a series of optical sensors watch as plastic containers fly off of the end of conveyor belts – and puffs of air are shot to separate water bottles, milk jugs and laundry-detergent bottles.
Thirteen people were hired for the upgrade – there are 36 now working on the line in two shifts each day.
Standing on a catwalk high above a mound awaiting sorting, Murbach and McGuire peered over the bright-yellow handrails, pointing out items such as blue tarps, pillows and other textiles, Mylar balloons and garden houses that can't be recycled and should be put in trash bins by residents to help the sorting system.
Garden hoses and sheets, for example, can wrap around machines and jam them.
"You as a customer can make a difference," Murbach said. "The better the material you bring to us, the (more) we can recover."
For commercial trash, Republic Services plans to install a $20 million sorting system by the end of 2013.
Trashy tipsTo increase what is recycled, and to protect workers, certain steps should be taken:
Plastic grocery bags can be recycled. But the bags are hard to corral when sorting and can tangle up equipment. Bundle 15 to 20 together to give them heft.
Put paper shreds in a paper bag and write ‘shred’ in bold on the side. The bag will be allowed to go through the sorting system and in with the recycled paper. Otherwise, they get lost in the process.
Packing-peanuts can’t be recycled effectively; it is better to reused them yourself.
The packaging for a case of bottled water - the plastic cover and the cardboard base - should be separated to help the recycling system. Same goes for removing metal lids from glass or plastic bottles.
Don’t bag up recyclables.
There are still people involved in the sorting process, so think about what hazards you might be putting in their path. Needles and other sharps need to be disposed of another way.