Recycling sorting facility in Milner retrofitted, back in operation

Materials still transported for recycling during repairs

A recycling truck driver dumps a load of materials at the MRF, or materials recovery facility, west of Milner on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Revolution Systems)

Officials with Denver-based Revolution Systems, which designed and operates the recyclable materials recovery facility located at Twin Enviro Services west of Milner, say the system is back online this week after a 13-week interruption. They also confirmed that the transportation of recyclable materials continued during repairs.

The failure in mid-April of the MRF sorting system’s main in-feed conveyor required that unsorted, single-stream recyclables be baled on-site and transported to another recovery facility on the Front Range for sorting and recycling, said John Crowley, vice president of marketing for Revolution Systems. Certain commodities, such as corrugated cardboard, were manually separated and baled in Milner for diversion to markets uninterrupted, Crowley said.

Crowley said the company “dropped the ball” on transparent communications while the local MRF was down through Monday. After being retrofitted, the recycling sorting system, which began operation originally in July 2016, is working “beautifully” now, Crowley said.

Crowley said the MRF equipment needed to be “totally remade in place” as the design of the prototype system caused damaging debris to be caught between the metal trough and the rubber belt that drags the recycling materials up the main conveyor belt. He said the redesigned system now uses less electricity, which is a benefit to the facility that is largely powered by a solar system installed on top of the tall MRF building.

Crowley stated that no recycling was trashed while the system was being rebuilt.

“No recyclable material was put in the landfill,” Crowley stated. “We had a commitment on the very first day that was unanimous within our organization, whatever it had to cost, we were not going to allow any materials to be landfilled.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has not lowered the company’s sales of recycled materials, Crowley said, because supplies of virgin materials were harder to acquire during the pandemic.

“Ironically, some commodities are in more demand today, more so than before the beginning of the pandemic,” Crowley said.

He said recycled plastics gained some moderate economic strength, and the market for cardboard, second-grade paper and metals remained stable.

The approximately $90,000 MRF equipment works on a circular loop system rather than long linear conveyor belts and, thus, has a smaller footprint to be used in smaller communities. This also allows the system to operate with less staff because the materials will pass by sorters more than once. Crowley said Revolution has four similar MRF systems installed or coming online soon in other states.

Since 2018, the MRF has been officially operated by Revolution Recycling at Twin, a subsidiary of Revolution Systems, although the MRF is owned by Twin Enviro Services. The MRF employs nine people, according to Duane McDonald, vice president of field operations for Revolution.

McDonald said the sorted recyclables are transported to various vendors in Denver and are managed by materials brokers. For example, cardboard and paper recycling materials are trucked through the Denver region to be shipped to paper mills in Oklahoma, Texas, Louisiana or Arkansas. Glass now goes to Momentum Recycling in Broomfield for direct reuse.

Previously baled, unsorted recyclable materials await processing outside the MRF west of Milner this week. Photo courtesy WInn Cowman

Contamination of recycling in Routt County remains a large problem, McDonald said, as the local MRF encounters up to 30% contamination rates when 10% is preferred. That high rate of contamination increases the costs to consumers for recycling services and degrades the quality and prices for the materials. McDonald noted the recycling operations can see trash items mixed in ranging from diapers to plastic bags, from electronic gadgets to plastic-coated paper, such as to-go coffee cups and ice cream containers.

“More people stayed home during the pandemic, so residential recycling went up quite a bit,” McDonald said, but unfortunately so-called “wish recycling” also continued.

He said the counterproductive wish recycling is when consumers throw nonrecyclable materials into the single-stream recycling in hopes that all items can be recycled.

Winn Cowman, waste diversion director for Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, said the rule of thumb for recycling is recyclables should be empty, clean and dry cardboard, paper, paperboard, cans, bottles, and food and beverage containers. The motto currently when trying to decide if something is recyclable is “when in doubt, throw it out.”

“Recycling contamination rates in general are going up. It’s true in Routt County and across recycling in general,” said McDonald, who has 25 years of experience in the recycling industry. “It eats up processing capacity and increases production costs to be able to sort through all that (trash) stuff.”

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