Material recovery facilities (MRFs) — known to the public simply as recycling plants — are sometimes perceived as a cure-all for waste diversion. The vision of a shiny building where a single stream of waste enters through the front door and saleable products come out the back is not all fantasy, but the capital and operating costs for such a facility needs to be carefully managed if it is going to be profitable.
Municipalities and IC&I organizations sectors are continually challenged to achieve greater recycling rates, but have tight budgets. That leaves MRF operators the challenge of diverting more waste for less.
The technological advancements in separation equipment used at MRFs have been incredibly rapid. In the past, sorting by hand was widely prevalent at recycling facilities. Today, a vast array of sophisticated automated equipment is available that can recycle practically anything. Manufactures have also introduced sophisticated data-acquisition and control technology that provides real-time reporting and integrated diagnostics.
New MRFs are constructed similar to new automotive assembly plants: to be versatile and adaptable. The nature of the waste stream is changing rapidly. New products (which are eventually disposed), changing technology (less newsprint is now in the waste stream), extended producer
responsibility (EPR) programs, single vs. multi-stream recycling schemes, all affect the nature of material received at a MRF. (See Editorial on
page 6 for comment on the impact from the changing paper mix.)
If the facility cannot adapt to changes in the incoming waste stream, recycling rates and profits are diminished.
An example of the new breed of highly adaptable MRFs can be found in Rocky View County, Alberta. Opened in late 2012 by BFI Canada, the MRF can handle 32,000 tonnes of materials annually, but has the capacity to expand to 80,000 tonnes per annum. It will eventually have over 100 full-time employees.
“This facility was built to handle today’s needs, but it is ready for tomorrow’s demand,” says Joe Rajotte, Vice President of Western Canada at BFI.
One Canadian-based company that has enjoyed success in the recycling business is Canada Fibers. With over 20 years in the business of recycling, Canada Fibers has slowly worked its way up into being one of the largest independently-operated materials recycling companies in Canada.
Company founder Joe Miranda started the business as a waste brokerage but eventually moved into recycling. The company’s major breakthrough came in 1997 when it won a major recycling contract with the City of Toronto.
Today, Canada Fibers operates seven facilities and has overall capacity to process up to 725,000 tonnes per year of material. All of its facilities are located in Ontario, with its residential waste MRFs located in Toronto, Brampton, Hamilton, and Sudbury. The Toronto, Brampton and Sudbury are single-stream MRFs and the Hamilton MRF is dual stream.
One of Canada Fibers most unique MRFs is an impressive 136,000 tonne per year facility that handles IC&I and complicated waste streams; the plant is located in Toronto. It was specifically designed to recycle material from difficult sources (e.g., waste collected in public spaces).
“We designed the plant to recover smaller fibre and smaller plastics that would not get recovered at a conventional MRF,” comments Jake Westerhof, Vice President of Operations at the company.
One often-overlooked aspect of the recycling business is marketing. Take a look at any successful operation, such as Canada Fibers, and you’ll find that it markets its recycled products around the world. This allows a company to weather local price fluctuations that may sink competitors that only rely on local buyers.
Another aspect of the recycling business that may be lost on start-ups is relationship building with customers. Many recycling companies are product focused and ignore the needs of their customers: the suppliers of the feedstock material. Canada Fibers is more than a company that owns MRFs. It also provides waste handling services, including transportation and technical services such as waste audits and equipment recommendations, along with client training and education.
Providing value-added services to customers and recognizing their needs helps MRF operators anticipate changes in the supply of material and time to adapt.
John Nicholson, M.Sc., P.Eng., is a consultant based in Toronto, Ontario. Contact John at email@example.com