The Lorain County Resource Recovery Facility, which is adjacent to Republic’s landfill, opened in 1992 and at the time it was a state-of-the-art facility, General Manager Eric VanHouten said.
On a good day, he said, the old equipment could sort through about nine tons of material per hour. Before the facility closed for renovations late last year, VanHouten said the company was running two 10-hour shifts five or six days a week to keep up with recycling materials hauled in from around Lorain County and points beyond.
The new equipment, part of a $15 million upgrade, has a far larger capacity and can sort through 35 tons of material per hour, cutting down on the number of shifts employees need to work. It can also sort through far more material than the old system, designed to accommodate the once-ubiquitous blue bag, could handle.
“Before we had to separate everything by hand,” VanHouten said. “It was a very slow system.”
The new system handles much of the sorting itself, although human beings still form the one of the first lines of sorting, picking out items that don’t belong in the green bins that most Republic customers now use.
The cart system, controversial when it was introduced several years ago, has led to a surge in recycling that had threatened to overcome the outdated technology Republic had been using.
VanHouten said over the years workers have founds guns, ammunition, propane tanks, knives and syringes. They also pulled the plastic bags out and put them into a vacuum system that sucks them up and eventually deposits them in what workers call the “sausage maker,” cramming the bags into long tubes.
The material then runs along a series of conveyor belts, being sorted out as it goes. In one area, a special system known as an eddy current repels aluminum into a designated receptacle. In another part of the system, optical scanners sort different plastics with puffs of air knocking them into specific containers.
VanHouten said the new system can recycle far more material than the old machines could. For instance, he said a grant from the Carton Council now allows cardboard containers such as juice boxes and milk cartons to be recycled, something that wasn’t possible before.
Republic can now recycle plastics numbered one through seven, whereas before they could only sort a limited number of plastics.
After the material is sorted — something that takes far longer in wet conditions — it is compressed into bundles and stored until it can be shipped off to companies around the world that use the material.
One of the reasons for the upgrades, VanHouten said, was higher standards for recycled material around the world, especially in China, which has enacted laws to prevent trash from coming into the country.
The new technology allows Republic to produce a less-contaminated product that can withstand China’s tough regulations, he said.
He also said that the new equipment allows more of what goes into the green bins to be recycled.
VanHouten said under the old system between 25 percent and 30 percent of what came into the facility still ended up in the landfill.
The new system has cut that to between 15 percent and 20 percent.
The ultimate goal, he said, is a “residual” rate of 10 percent.