Thinking big in Vegas
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Posted by: Anne Piacentino
The Southern Nevada Recycling Center is helping Republic Services keep up with increasing volume in a technologically advanced way.
Las Vegas is known for its big hotels, big casinos and big-name entertainment, but Republic Services is putting Las Vegas on the map for another big reason. The Phoenix-based waste services firm’s new Southern Nevada Recycling Center (SNRC) is considered the largest residential single-stream recycling facility in the United States.
The 110,000-square-foot SNRC, next door to Republic’s older, still operational 88,000-square-foot facility, combine to give it the title of the largest residential recycling facility. The SNRC’s advanced sorting technology and innovative design elements further set it apart.
“A recycling center of this magnitude is a bold undertaking and reflects our community’s commitment to environmental responsibility,” Tim Oudman, area president of Republic Services, said at the Nov. 12, 2015, opening of the SNRC.
MAKING THE TRANSITION
The facility’s General Manager Len Christopher says Republic first considered expanding about four years ago and spent some time looking at options and vendors.
As Republic began collecting residential recyclables using automated trucks, volume increased significantly. “We just got to the point where we were at capacity,” he says of the original facility, which was built in 1991.
Republic owned the property adjacent to its original MRF and decided to build its new facility there.
Republic continued processing material at the original MRF “until they could flip the switch and reroute the trucks next door,” Christopher says.
Pictured, from left: SNRC General Manager Len Christopher, Republic Services President and CEO Don Slager and Republic Services Area President Tim Oudman; photos courtesy of Republic Services
Processing really ramped up at the new facility in January as materials slowly transitioned from the old complex to the new complex. Christopher says Republic Services took its time to work out the required adjustments.
He describes the new processing system, designed and installed by San Diego-based CP Group, as much more efficient than the older system. Within three years, the new facility will be fully automated and operating at an estimated 70-ton-per-hour processing rate, according to Christopher.
“We didn’t jump out the gate at 70 tons per hour,” he says.
Christopher says he expects the new MRF to process 175,000 tons in 2016. “We are hoping to get that number up to about 250,000 tons in about three years.”
The SNRC was built primarily to process residential single-stream recyclables, which Christopher says make up about 80 percent of the incoming volume, with commercial and industrial recyclables account for the remaining 20 percent.
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The facility receives about 125 truckloads of material per day, 99 percent of which are delivered by Republic Services’ trucks.
Christopher says commercial, industrial and residential materials are kept separate from each other on the tipping floor because they are processed at different speeds. “We can run the residential faster than the commercial,” he adds.
Materials are weighed and held in a certain area of the tipping floor before being fed into metering bins, which create an even burden depth so that when the material is conveyed to the presort deck, the sorters easily can identify items that are not supposed to be in the loads, such as residuals or large items, and can remove them by hand.
Next, a series of screens separates the fiber, sorting it into various grades. A postsort of the fiber is conducted at the end of this process to check for contaminants.
The containers travel on to magnets that pull out steel and tin cans, and eddy current separators recover aluminum cans.
An optical sorter separates polyethylene terephthalate (PET) from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and a split unit further separates HDPE into mixed color and natural streams.
Nos. 3-7 plastics also are recovered.
As with the fiber, postsorts of these streams are performed, removing contaminants by hand.
Glass stays in the glass cleaning system.
The entire system is controlled using a Panasonic Tough Book, which Christopher describes as a tablet similar to an iPad but more durable. It has been a welcome addition to the operation.
“It allows us to control anything and everything you can imaging in the facility,” he says, “whether we want to empty a bunker, turn on a baler, speed a belt up, slow it down, reverse it, you name it. Pretty much anything and everything a machine can do, we can control it from a hand-held device, so it’s really great from a supervisory standpoint that we can walk and monitor and make adjustments on the fly.”
Christopher says the tablet is more efficient than the old way of making adjustments by relaying information via walkie-talkie to someone at the control panel.
Also contributing to efficiency improvements at the new SNRC are the single-level platforms, which Christopher says increase the ability to supervise employees because they are all visible.
Beyond the system
The Southern Nevada Recycling Center (SNRC), owned and operated by Phoenix-based Republic Services, was designed not only to double processing capacity of recyclables in the Las Vegas area, it also was designed with sustainable and educational features that set it apart.
Its learning center features educational displays and community videos, as well as a live video stream of recycling operations. Light fixtures in the learning center are made of recycled high-density polyethylene (HDPE) milk jugs that look like clouds. The cab of a collection truck, where people can take selfies and post them to social media, also is inside the center.
Groups from Clark County schools, Boy Scout troops, chambers of commerce and others are lining up to see the new facility for themselves.
“We have tremendous requests for tours,” says Len Christopher, SNRC general manager. “Everybody is interested in recycling, everyone is curious, so we now have the space to come educate the public to show them what we do and how we do it.”
The learning center also offers visitors a 360-degree view of the recycling process in an observation deck that sits above live operations. “You are literally in a pod suspended above the whole system,” he says of the observation deck. Christopher says “It is extremely cool and so eye opening” for people to witness a pile of incoming material transformed into segregated commodities “in a matter of minutes.”
Sustainability also was a priority throughout the design and construction of the SNRC, which was provided by Cambridge Cos. of Griffith, Indiana. According to Republic, more than 75 percent of the 110,000-square-foot building was made from recycled or remanufactured steel. The roof features 1,776 solar energy panels that are expected to generate enough renewable energy to fulfill 15 percent of the building’s power requirements.
Inside the building, automatic low-flow water fixtures will reduce water consumption by more than 20 percent, Republic says.
Within the Learning Center, sustainability was incorporated into every facet of the displays and design.
Outside the building, the natural landscape was preserved and repurposed for flood channel mitigation, Republic says.
“The learning center and the solar on the roof are what really sets us apart,” Christopher says of the SNRC.
“It is much safer that way,” he adds.
As well, catwalks were built from each office directly to the deck, so employees don’t have to go down to ground level to access the system.
The SNRC employs 160 people and runs two processing shifts and an overnight maintenance shift.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE
After materials are separated through the SNRC’s CP system, they are conveyed to bunkers prior to being baled and moved to a warehouse. From there, materials are sold into their various markets.
Prices for recycled commodities may be down, but Christopher says he isn’t worried about the short-term outlook.
“When you make an investment like this, you can’t look at what is going on today,” he says.
“In the past 10 years, we’ve had a lot of ups and downs. The good news is we continue to sell products and move products, and eventually we hope to see markets get a little bit stronger,” Christopher says.
“We just keep doing what we are doing, and when the price goes up, that’s good,” he adds.
Republic Services’ extensive footprint in southern Nevada extends beyond its newest recycling facility. The company also operates its largest landfill and its largest transfer station in the area.
Christopher says it is his job to “keep stuff away from them.”
The author is an editor with the Recycling Today Media Group and can be reached at email@example.com.