Single-stream success: Wastech Engineering

Wastech Engineering’s Scott Foulds highlights the latest technologies to support a variety of materials recovery facilities.

When Freshkills Landfill in Staten Island, New York, one of the largest landfills in the world, closed at the end of 2001, it forced the City of New York to explore alternative waste management options.

One option mooted in the early 2000s to fill the gap was a materials recovery facility (MRF). According to a research paper published by the Department of Earth and Environmental Engineering, a 150-ton-per-hour facility could handle all of New York City’s recyclables. The operations within the MRF were proposed to be as automated as possible, increasing speed of operation, reducing costs and improving material recovery.

More than a decade on, New York City and other cities across the globe have embraced best practice, with the next generation of screens, optical sorters and air separation technology providing an end-to-end solution.

In leveraging more than 25 years’ experience supplying waste and recycling equipment, Wastech Engineering has been offering technologies to allow MRFs to sort and separate a wide range of waste streams.

Wastech’s commingled recycling screen range features the latest in design and engineering from their US partner The CP Group. From the proprietary cam-disc style CP Screen (polishing screen) to the OCC Screen and Auger Screens, the CP Group continues to set the pace for screening technology in kerbside recycling.

Scott Foulds, Operations Manager at Wastech, says the company’s range of screens provide full flexibility in MRF design for sorting and separating of various commodities.

“The flexibility of the MRF design, including which streams are captured, is ultimately designed around the outputs the customer wants for the markets they will sell into,” Scott explains.

“The CP Group in the US has implemented an extensive research and development program over the past 10 years to develop their screens to minimise wrapping and increase efficiency in seperation.”

Scott says the OCC Screen is an essential machine for any MRF. The screen effectively separates old corrugated cardboard (OCC) from other mixed fibre, containers and debris. Characterised by its low maintenance and wrapping design, the screen drops all material under 300 millimetres through the screen for further sorting.

“99 per cent of what goes over the OCC Screen will be clean cardboard with a very high purity rate so you don’t need quality control,” Scott says.

He says the steel discs and shafts have been designed for reduced wrapping, with a lifespan of around 15-plus years due to their robust construction and quality design.

The glass breaker screen is the next step in the process which breaks and separates glass and fines down to a 50-millimetre-minus product. The glass is removed early in the sorting process to protect the longevity of the equipment upstream.

Air separation technology can then remove light materials from glass such as small fibre, organics and plastics, with Wastech offering a host of systems through The CP Group or Impact Air.

The NewScreen is ideal for MRFs processing higher volumes that want to capture old newsprint. It is designed to automatically separate large fibre from mixed paper, containers and debris.

“If you’re operating a smaller MRF, then the CP Screen could recover all the fibre. But it does come down to what markets the customer has to sell their products into. If they’ve got a market for mixed paper, newsprint and cardboard, it’s better to separate those items, especially if the end user is getting good value for money,” Scott explains.

The CP Screen ensures a clean stream of paper by eliminating residues such as small fibres and organic material by dropping this out through the screen. The paper (2D material) goes over the top of the screen and the containers (3D material) go off the back of the screen. The CP rubber disc screens can be adjusted for speed and inclination, allowing it to be varied from 30 to 40 degrees, which help improve the efficiency and quality of the screen’s functionality.

Scott says the CP Screen has numerous advantages over other separators, namely the quantity of throughput and quality of separation.

In continuing to expand its offering to Australian MRF operators, Wastech launched the CP Auger Screen in 2018 – which enables accurate separation of newsprint and large fibres from the material stream early in the separation process. This is particularly useful in higher volume MRFs.

While robotics is largely an emerging technology, Scott says a variety of optical sorters can be used instead to sort fibre and containers and achieve high throughput, capture rates and quality outputs.

“As an alternative to robotics, we’ve come up with a different design in our optical sorting range where we use a single line optical sorter on the container line.

“All the containers pass through an optical sorting head which determines the container type, whether it be aluminium, PET, HDPE or liquid paperboard.”

The container is then ejected into the designated hopper as it passes down the conveyor line. Scott says all of Wastech’s products are backed up by its 24-hour Service Centre, with 15 service vehicles on the road nationally.

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Europe’s push for MRF automation: CEMAC

Europe is pioneering world-first local sorting solutions in its nations’ regions for difficult recyclable commodities such as LDPE. Waste Management Review explores the potential to bring fully automated materials recovery facilities to Australia.

In the village of Skedsmokorset, warm summers and dry winters typify the small community of 15,000 people, based within the municipality of Skedsmo, near Oslo.

Located in Akershus county, Skedsmo is named after the old Skedsmo farm, since the first church was built there almost 10 centuries ago.

Hundreds of years later, high labour costs have inspired a local solution to a local waste management problem.   

As the Norwegian community is fairly remote, the City of Oslo has opted for a fully automated mixed waste processing facility. After three years of planning, in 2016, Stadler Anlagenbau was awarded a contract to build and design the first-of-its-kind facility.

The world’s first fully automated mixed waste processing facility is run by municipal solid waste processor Romerike Avfallsforedling (RoAF), which is based in Skedsmokorset. The company collects household and food waste from 10 municipalities in Norway, including Skedsmo, which comprises a population of around 53,000.

Powered by a sorting system installed by Stadler Anlagenbau GmbH, green bags of food waste are separated from other material and taken to an on-site anaerobic digestion facility. The material is then transformed into biogas and used to fuel RoAF’s waste collection trucks.

As the plant was being built, Norwegian municipalities redesigned their kerbside system, opting to collect all recyclables in one commingled stream.

The plant features a variety of processing equipment, including 145 conveyors, 16 near-infrared (NIR) optical sorters, two drum screens, one vibrating screen, a star screen, a shredder, two bag openers, two ballistic separators and an eddy current.

Three AUTOSORT TOMRA systems separate and clean the green bags from the remaining waste bags by material and colour using NIR and visual spectrometry. This initial sorting process can successfully separate more than 97 per cent of the incoming green bio-waste bags.

Once waste is separated into different streams, further sorting sees a combination of mechanical processing such as ballistic separators and AUTOSORT optical machines, with PELD film, PEHD, PP, PET, mixed plastics and paper separated. Recyclable fractions are stored and baled and sent to different recyclers, with any residues collected and sent for energy recovery.

According to Eric Paulsen, CEMAC technologies Managing Director, RoAF shows the potential that can be tapped in municipal solid waste recovery via automation.

As local waste management conversations tend to focus on the “tyranny of distance” argument, Eric encourages Australian centres to re-consider the long-term economics. He says that the fact that Australia has a higher densification in urban centres than Europe allows for better agglomeration in the main cities.

Cemac technologies is the Australian supplier for STADLER screening drums, sorting plants, ballistic separators and TOMRA Sorting and the company is looking to offer its high level of engineering experience for the Australian sector.

Eric adds that given wages are higher in Australia than Europe, it makes sense to adopt more domestic automation.

“Traditionally, sorting plants in Australia were very low capital compared to overseas, in terms of quality. This had to get boosted through manual labour, but even in the case of cleaning up paper, you can’t manually pick plastic bags that weigh five grams per bag by hand – the only way forward is higher capital and automation.”

While total automation and a labour-free MRF might seem like future innovations, Eric says the solutions are already accessible.

“Technologies that can seamlessly sort commingled recyclables are available. By achieving improved purity levels through automation, you can deal with today’s challenges,” he says.

When putting RoAF into perspective, Eric says that the benefits are threefold – cost via reduced wages, revenue via improved recyclate quality and environmental via reduced collection trucks. Eric says this then creates revenue with a cleaner recycling stream and leads to skilled employment.

“You could build a facility like this in larger regional centres, such as Albury, or also Melbourne and Sydney surrounds, collect all recyclables in one bin and sort onsite.”

Eric points to the success of another automated facility in Bulgaria that has chosen to take on a challenging waste stream with no end market for direct remanufacturing in Australia – post-consumer film. Like many ambitious Greeks before him, in 2016 Kostas Ziogas was looking to invest in a growing industry. While many who have safely invested in HDPE, PET and PP could perceive LDPE processing as a risk, Kostas and a team of entrepreneurs put their heads together and established a company in Elin Pelin, Bulgaria.

Dubbed Integra Plastics, the company invested more than $40 million in a prototype plant. In utilising efficient processes and creating higher purities, Integra produces a high-end recycled product as close to virgin material as currently possible.

Eric is inspired by the start-up, which uses Tomra machines and a sorting plant built by STADLER.

Using the STADLER film sorting plant, the shredded material follows a screening process to remove fines and uses ballistic separators to separate the 3D materials.

TOMRA Finder’s near-infrared system takes care of the LDPE clear film and sorts it by polyolefin type and colour transparency – blue, green and red – before the material undergoes washing, drying and regranulation. EREMA extrusion technologies pelletise the flake, which undergoes cutting, venting and melt filtration and can eventually be used to remanufacture new film.

Eric says that while sorting plants are evolving, particularly in Europe, and automation requires larger initial capital investment, the resulting material has higher purity levels.

“The whole ground is shifting on this. An MRF that would have been perfectly capable of making something commercially viable 10 years ago does not work anymore,” he says.

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ACT MRF stores paper and cardboard amid bushfire crisis

Paper and cardboard processed through the ACT materials recovery facility (MRF) will be temporarily stored to manage the impacts of the bushfire crisis in NSW.

According to Recycling and Waste Reduction Minister Chris Steel, the MRF at Hume processes approximately 470 tonnes of paper and cardboard each week from kerbside recycling bins, local council areas and commercial entities.

Mr Steel said the material is then packaged and sent to a Visy pulp and paper mill in Tumut, for recycling into paper and cardboard products.

“The operator of the MRF, Re.Group, has advised the ACT Government that although the Visy mill at Tumut has not been directly impacted by the fires, a number of their plantations and stored wood chips were burnt around the Eden area,” Mr Steel said.

“Visy’s products are manufactured using a combination of recycled content and wood chips, and the impact of the fire on the plantations means that Visy temporarily needs to slow production of recycled paper and cardboard.”

As Visy has been unable to accept all of the ACT’s paper recycling at this time, Mr Steel said the Hume MRF has reached storage capacity.

“While about half the volume of paper and cardboard will continue to be sent to Visy each week, the ACT Government has taken the decision to temporarily store the remaining material at Mugga Lane and West Belconnen resource management facilities over the coming weeks,” Mr Steel said.

“The additional storage locations have been determined in consultation with ACT Fire and Rescue to minimise fire safety risks, and ACT Fire and Rescue has also been involved in assessing the stockpiles at the Hume MRF.”

Mr Steel said temporarily storing the baled paper will help prevent land filling in the short term, while the state government waits for the recycling industry to recover from the fires and process the material.

“Landfilling is the last resort, and will only be considered if the recycling industry is unable to recover and increase production levels, and stored material can no longer be safely managed,” Mr Steel said.

“The ACT Government will continue to work closely with Re.Group to review arrangements and explore all options to avoid landfilling paper and cardboard. Re.Group are actively looking for other markets to sell the recycled paper and cardboard to and have been advised by Visy that they are working to resume full operations as soon as possible.”

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Minute material recovery: Turmec

Waste Management Review speaks with Trevor Smart, Turmec UK Managing Director, about the recovery potential of miniature material recovery facilities.

When the Federal Government launched an inquiry into Australia’s waste management and recycling industries in October, Committee Chair Barnaby Joyce said the committee would examine international best practice.

The inquiry will consider opportunities to better manage domestic waste, as well as current impediments to innovation.

It’s a welcome move for Trevor Smart, Turmec UK Managing Director, who says the Australian waste industry could learn a lot from the UK’s approach to resource recovery – notably the uptake of mini material recovery facilities (MRF). He says that a series of events on his recent trip to Australia has him thinking about potential solutions to the country’s current recycling challenges.

Flying from the UK to attend Waste Expo Australia in 2019, Trevor arrived in Melbourne at a time of industry flux. The Council of Australian Government’s waste export ban had just been announced, Victorian councils were dealing with the collapse of SKM Recycling and container deposit scheme discussions were challenging the efficacy of kerbside collection.

Of most interest to Trevor, however, was how the amalgamation of these issues highlighted an opportunity to reshape Australia’s resource recovery and logistics network.

“In Melbourne I met a councillor from a small rural community in Victoria. He explained that the demise of SKM had placed a lot of local authorities under financial and operational pressure,” Trevor says.

“In addition to the loss of this facility, the fact that the council’s recyclates had to travel over 400 kilometres to an MRF meant there were few alternatives.”

This lack of infrastructure capacity, parried with low recyclate tonnages, creates a challenging situation for smaller councils, Trevor says.

Following SKM’s collapse, many rural councils were forced to transport materials further afield, or in some cases, simply revert to landfill.

Trevor adds that the collapse of SKM is a story that’s played out globally numerous times, meaning international approaches can serve as a case study.

Over the course of Waste Expo Australia, Trevor says he had multiple conversations about the applicability of greater kerbside separation in Australia. He adds that the idea was routinely challenged, with many suggesting the economic cost would outweigh recovery benefits.

“We saw the same reaction in the UK when kerbside sorting was introduced. But from our experience, kerbside sorting was a successful move that greatly improved recycling rates and recyclate quality,” he says.

While Trevor admits kerbside separation can be challenging in high-density urban areas, he says suburban and rural implementation is simple.

Referencing urban planner David Gordon’s 2016 analysis of Australian cities, Trevor says 86 per cent of the population live in suburban or exurban neighbourhoods.

“Only 14 per cent of Australians are living in high-density housing, suggesting greater kerbside separation would be well suited to this country. For it to work, however, the system needs to be supported by parallel investment in mini MRF’s.”

Under Trevor’s plan, households separate containers, paper, cardboard and glass. From there, the material is collected by multi-compartment vehicles – eliminating many of the issues associated with kerbside contamination.

“Materials are then delivered to a mini MRF for further sorting, for instance, separating ferrous and aluminium containers from plastic, before baling and onward sale or further processing.”

Trevor adds that paper and cardboard would be baled and stored, ready as a saleable product.

“Glass would also be stored in the yard area for bulk transportation to a reprocessor,” he says.

“This system would not only suit low tonnage, but also give value to the recyclates, whereby semi-sorted clean materials can go directly to a reprocessor or exported for further sorting.”

Trevor says the concept of a mini MRF is simple, with widescale implementation potential across Australia.

He adds that Turmec’s comprehensive engineered recycling solutions cater for a wide range of tonnages and material applications.

“We integrate equipment from market leading suppliers in waste separation technology to produce a high-quality separation process with 99 per cent recovery rates,” he adds.

Trevor says the cost effectiveness of mini MRFs, paired with increased recyclate quality and saleability, has been proved in many UK local authorities.

A 2016 study commissioned by the Welsh Government, for instance, shows switching to source-separated recycling collections could save Welsh councils over one million euros a year.

“Other benefits such as employment, increased householder participation and a reduction of residual waste are also evident in UK studies,” he says.

“While the initial capital expenditure for the vehicles, containers and mini MRFs is going to be higher than refuse collection and transfer vehicles, when compared to MRF gate fees, transportation cost and material quality, the advantages are clear.”

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Scott Morrison visits New York MRF

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has highlighted his commitment to working collaboratively with state governments and industry to grow Australia’s recycling infrastructure capacity.

The statements were made following a tour of the Sims Metal Management materials recovery facility (MRF) in Brooklyn New York.

Commenting on the scale and scope of the MRF, Mr Morrison said he was excited to see similar technology employed in Australia.

“What we’re seeing here is truly exciting, and it is truly achievable because it is commercial, and it’s a partnership between the public and the private sectors,” Mr Morrison said.

“I mean, up to about two thirds of the revenue that is generated here doesn’t come from the contracts they have with governments, it comes from the products and the revenue streams that are generated by selling that outside of this facility.”

Mr Morrison said the facility’s success highlighted that improving the recycling sector was achievable through public and private sector partnerships.

“There are many environmental challenges that we face, and we need to take action on all of them, but this one for Australia, in a highly urbanised society, one where our waste is our responsibility, these are the commercial solutions that we need to have in place,” Mr Morrison said.

“And this will be a centrepiece of our focus, not only on our domestic environmental agenda, but on our international environmental agenda.”

Sims Metal Management CEO Alistair Field said it was important that contractual arrangements with city governments were mutually beneficial.

“We work very closely with New York City, and in the times that we have ebbs and flows and commodity cycles, there has to be an understanding of how our business can manage through those cycles,” Mr Field said.

“We have seen instances here in the US and throughout the world where that has not worked. So that’s a really key arrangement and our commercial arrangement with business and government.”

When asked by media why similar technology wasn’t being implemented in Australia, Mr Morrison said the scale of operations was challenging.

The Prime Minister added that he would work closely with state governments and the Commonwealth to build that scale.

“The discussion I had with the states at the last meeting of COAG was a very enthusiastic one. I think there’s a real willingness to identify the things that can facilitate this sort of commercial activity,” Mr Morrison said.

“One of the things we are looking at is the procurement practices of our road building agencies, to ensure that they are incorporating recycled asphalt into their procurement in the tens of billions of dollars that we are spending on roads.”

Mr Morrison said higher energy costs in Australia were also a challenge, however noted the potential inherent in waste to energy processes.

“One of the exciting things about waste management is that it can generate its own energy, and plants like this can potentially become fully energy self-sufficient, through recycling waste and converting it through gasification and other processes into energy,” Mr Morrison said.

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Veolia hosts MRF education day

Veolia opened the doors of its Echuca materials recovery facility (MRF) to local councils and commercial businesses on 11 September, to educate them on MRF operations and processing.

Veolia Commercial Services General Manager Daniel Paone said educating customers and the wider community was an important part of Veolia’s approach to materials recovery.

“Veolia owns and operates the MRF in Echuca, which has a design capacity of approximately 20,000 tonnes per annum. The MRF processes mixed recyclables that are collected throughout the region,” Mr Paone said.

“By working with our customers, we can reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfill and avoid contamination risk, which not only has a negative impact on the environment, but puts the safety of our people at risk. The more our customers and the community understand how the facility works, the more effectively we can serve the community and our customers.”

Veolia Sustainability Coordinator Francesca Stafford said the open day highlighted a range of issues caused by contamination including safety risks for MRF employees, a reduction in commodity recyclability and an increase in sorting and disposal costs.

“Hosting an industry open day like this one is an essential component of our wider engagement strategy,” Ms Stafford said.

“Education and awareness is fundamental to sustainability, and allowing our clients to see the issues first hand will help them drive positive change within their local communities.”

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Commingled trust: Wastech Engineering

Wastech National Projects Product Manager Mike McConnell takes Waste Management Review through the company’s materials recovery facility concept design process. 

When China placed contamination restrictions on imported waste in 2017, Australian material recovery facilities (MRF) had to face up to the realisation that their technology wouldn’t meet the 0.5 per cent rate.

According to a 2018 federal analysis of Australia’s municipal recycling infrastructure, a major issue for MRFs is the lack of technical capacity to sort commingled, highly contaminated municipal waste materials to a standard that meets stringent export specifications.

In the wake of China, prices for plastic, cardboard and paper have dropped. Demand for higher quality material however had risen, which offers significant market opportunities for processors willing to invest in technical capacity and optical sorting upgrades.

Wastech National Projects Product Manager Mike McConnell says the complexity of current challenges makes turnkey solutions more attractive than ever.

“The industry is presently facing a unique set of challenges, and many recycling companies don’t have the time to sit down and analyse how to best upgrade their facilities,” Mike says.

“Through evaluating the industry via reports on waste volumes, equipment needs, collection methods and operational requirements, Wastech is able to provide clients with fully realised MRF concepts and design.”

According to Mike, the key to good business practice when developing a MRF is building trust with the client.

“Effectively turning a client’s initial request into a well-functioning MRF requires trust between both parties. We need to understand their volumes, waste composition and material process flows,” Mike says.

“At a minimum you will be working with the client for six months, and in some cases, it might take two years. It’s really important both organisations understand each other and the process.”

Mike says concept design begins with a study of the client’s needs, starting on the base level of whether they require a retrofit for an existing MRF or to develop an entirely new facility.

From there, Wastech looks at the client’s required volumes, tonnes per year and what waste streams the proposed plant will be dealing with.

Mike places high importance on this initial stage, noting the significant variability of waste streams and therefore the customer’s equipment needs.

“Understanding the composition of the waste stream is key as it informs all equipment purchasing decisions,” Mike says.

“For example, what kind of screening is needed? Does the client require optical sorting? Are they dealing with coloured or uncoloured containers? Are they dealing with both?”

Following this, Wastech examines what outputs the client is looking for in relation to desired end markets and purity.   

“Looking at material process flow involves working out how the MRF will achieve the client’s specified requirements, most significantly the levels of purity needed to achieve the finished product,” Mike says.

“We formulate a material process flow and mass balance analysis, which then helps us determine what equipment is needed, and then we review that in detail with the client.”   

Through a partnership with CP Group, an American separation and material recovery equipment manufacturer, Wastech is able to support MRFs for commingled recyclables, municipal solid waste, construction and demolition material, commercial and industrial waste, waste-to-energy operations and e-waste.

Wastech offers a range of screening equipment, notably the OCC Screen which automatically separates cardboard from other fibres and containers.

The company also provides optical sorting sensors, collection hoods to transport handpicked film, eddy currents for nonferrous material, metering drums, air drum separators, silo blowers, trommel screens, balers and conveyor belts.

“Following the initial design presentation, we can adjust and modify equipment choices,” Mike says.

“Once the client is happy and following multiple reviews of the initial concept and design, we conduct a number of site visits where we measure the existing or proposed facility to figure out how the equipment will best fit into the space.”

Following this, Mike says Wastech develops a 3D model for the client, which allows them to fully visualise the proposal.

“We find 3D visualisations to be a much more effective communication tool than simple facts and figures or drawings,” Mike says.

The next stage is the tender process, where Wastech provides a quote for the facility’s realisation.

“When we’re working with clients on the design and concept over a period time, be it local government or private companies, a real trusting relationship is established. They know what we are offering is value for money,” Mike says.   

“In addition to relationship building, we have a long history of delivering MRFs, so clients know if they request a certain level of purity that’s what Wastech will supply.”

Mike says the SUEZ MRF in Bibra Lake, Perth, is a recent example of Wastech’s turnkey process.

Wastech was commissioned to upgrade an already existing SUEZ MRF through the introduction of optical sorting equipment, which, according to Mike, led to a significant increase in efficiency and subsequent output.

A spokesperson for SUEZ said in May that the company is committed to taking action to expand recycling and sorting processes.

“SUEZ’s investment in a state-of-the-art optical sorting system, in partnership with Wastech, is one of the ways we have enhanced our infrastructure to increase our recovery, and therefore recycling rates at our MRF in Bibra Lake,” the spokesperson said.

“This investment, alongside working with our customers, has allowed us to ensure contamination is kept to a minimum and helped to keep the kerbside recycling system sustainable.”

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