Steamboat recycling business launches first-of-its-kind small market system
Steamboat Springs — A recycling “Revolution” is underway in a tall metal building near the landfill west of Steamboat Springs where personnel at Twin Enviro Services are putting a first-of-its-kind sorting system for recyclables through its paces.
When the Twin Enviro crew is trained to operate its new “Revolution” sorting machine at full speed, it will make recycling here more efficient both from an economical and an environmental standpoint. It will eliminate the need to send bales of unsorted single-stream recyclables to a material recycling center on the Front Range before they are trucked to the final customer.
“If you go to the trouble to recycle properly, you want to know you’re doing some good for the environment,” Twin Enviro founder Les Liman said June 30. “We’ve learned that when you ship (recyclables) to Denver for sorting, one quarter of it goes to the dump.”
That means a quarter of the carbon footprint generated by the shipment was wasted, because well-intentioned recycling customers place inappropriate items that aren’t covered under single-stream recycling in their rollaway or community dumpster.
“We thought, ‘Let’s do it here,’” Liman said.
Not only would an extra truck trip to the recycling materials facility (MRF) be eliminated, but there would be no reason for another lengthy truck trip to take trash removed from the recycling stream to the dump — the landfill is right next to the new MRF west of Milner. And glass in the recycling stream, which has virtually no market, can be taken directly to the landfill where it is used to create drainage layers.
Designer Dan Alsop of Ultimate Specialities LLC said the new sorting machine, which he’s dubbed the Revolution, is significant because before now, there were no manufacturers of sorting systems built for the needs of communities as small as 20,000 people.
At the core of the Revolution is a circular sorting belt that allows as few as one person, and as many as 11, to segregate the 11 classes of recyclables into their own bin, or in some cases, directly into a bailer.
In the business of sorting recyclables, the metric that matters is man-hours of labor per ton of recyclables, Alsop said. The sorting turntable he designed allows the operator to staff the machine to match the size of the local market and fluctuations in collections.
If you were to picture a single employee manning the sorting belt by themselves, Alsop said they would sort out cardboard in the first pass, followed by paper into its own bin on the second pass, followed by an overhead magnet that would remove steel cans, and finally aluminum and plastic.
That kind of efficiency with labor costs matched to recycling volume isn’t practical at a large MRF in Denver where the sorting lines are linear with an employee assigned to each of the 11 categories of recyclables. Steamboat Today reported on the operations of a large MRF in Denver in January 2015.
Recycling is in her blood
On an afternoon in late June, Twin Enviro’s recycling manager Jeneire Yeats was energetically raking recyclables from a huge mound into the mouth of the Revolution’s initial belt that raises the cans and plastic detergent bottles to the 13-foot elevation of the turntable where her crew was sorting them into their proper bins. Asked by a visitor about the source of her enthusiasm for the job, she said it took her back to her childhood.
“I love it,” she said. “Since I was a child in Costa Rica, I’ve been recycling. All the kids were picking up trash. I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I want to do.”
Not long after, a Twin Enviro truck backed into the steel building where it disgorged 8 cubic yards of fresh recyclables. Yeats’ crew pounced on the pile to pull out the largest cardboard boxes and put them directly in the appropriate bailer before they could slow down the turntable.
Alsop said Yeats is doing a good job of managing a lot of variables that must be controlled for a sorting crew to reach the desired efficiency.
Before long, instead of raking recyclables into the sorting machine, Yeats and her crew will be using a skid-steer loader.
“At a standard MRF the learning curve is about nine months,” Alsop said. “With this system, I want to see it (reduced) to three months.”
Spreading the Revolution
Alsop’s next Revolution is currently being installed at Goodwill Industries of Denver, which prides itself for having been in the recycling business for decades.
Liman said he doesn’t expect to profit from his new Revolution, which he describes as a $1 million investment (including about $300,000 for his new Revolution), but he was motivated to make recycling more practical in small, even remote, markets.
“We’d like to keep losses to a minimum,” Liman said. “We need local support, that’s for sure.”
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As Steamboat Springs and Routt County ease out of the pandemic, I’m thrilled to see a full slate of community events on the calendar in the coming months.