DES MOINES, Iowa — A recycling committee made up of staff and board members from Metro Waste Authority is looking at the future of recycling in the metro. They visited three Material Recovery Facilities to see the latest technology and try to decide if the independent government agency should build a “MRF” of its own.
Board Member Ron Pogge said, “I think there is a need to have government in some things, and I think, especially in down markets, governments don’t have to look at immediate profit and can continue recycling, which in itself is a good thing.”
The recycling industry faces challenges across the country after China stopped taking recycling from the United States last year.
Central Iowa recycling leaders have found buyers for materials, but the ban from China brought forward a big problem plaguing the industry: contamination. That’s when people throw items in the bin that don’t belong.
Members of the recycling committee traveled to Las Vegas in February to see the Southern Nevada Recycling Center. Board Member Dean O’Connor said, “This one was built from the ground up. They built the building, designed the equipment all in one time.”
Republic Services opened the recycling center in Las Vegas in 2015. “This is the largest and smartest recycling center in North America,” said Republic Services Community Relations Manager Jeremy Walters.
It features technology like optical sorters. “That material, like plastic bags, the envelope, the pouch, the optical is going to be able to remove that,” explained CP Group Sales Engineer Patrick Nicol.
Nicol also described equipment called a fiber max. “With the fiber max we clean the paper much more than just the labor, so we can actually adapt our equipment verses the inbound material,” he said.
In addition to the technology, there’s also a learning center. Exhibits show what items can be recycled and what those items are made into. It also features a recycling truck that visitors can hop in to see what it is like to drive and take a picture to share on social media.
Walters said, “This is a great tool because we get to bring kids all the way up to seniors through here. Everyone gets a better understanding, appreciation for the process.”
Metro Waste Authority Executive Director Michael McCoy said, “What we need is a state-of-the-art facility. You cannot recycle or process material in 2019 and 2020 and moving forward with some of that older equipment that is 10 years old.”
Metro Waste Authority currently sends recyclables to be processed at Mid-America Recycling in Des Moines. Its contract ends in 2021, and McCoy would like Metro Waste Authority to build its own facility by then.
“Controlling cost and quality of material to buyers. That’s been one big problem lately is the buyers are demanding a better quality material, which is going to take higher quality machines and technology. That’s what we’re lacking right now, in Iowa, in the metro area,” said McCoy.
Mid-America Recycling President Mick Barry said, “We actually have optical sorters in the plant now, where we sort the plastics, and we back that technology up with manpower.”
Barry said his company would update technology, if it had longer contract. “We’re prepared to make a $5 [million] to $10 million investment in the plant now, but we don’t know where Metro Waste Authority is going to go,” said Barry.
“Metro Waste definitely has, at least a decision to make, as to whether or not we should own our own,” said Pogge.
It’s something the board is considering, as the recycling committee brings everything they’ve learned in Las Vegas home to Iowa. “All the thought and the technology and the innovation that was put into it and done all up front,” said O’Connor, speaking of the facility in Las Vegas.
A new Materials Recovery Facility is estimated to cost $24 million. The Metro Waste Authority Board of Directors decided in its April meeting to approve a Request for Proposal to seek bids from recycling equipment manufacturers.
You can see a list of what items you can recycle and what you can’t on Metro Waste Authority’s website.