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8 January 2014

Thinking of converting your transfer station to a mixed waste MRF?

Have you been Johnson_BaxVis 004reading success stories on those who’ve converting their classic “lift & load” transfer station to a cutting edge mixed waste resource recovery/material recycling facility (mixed waste MRF) and wondering whether such a capital intensive conversion could work for your facility?

You might be asking yourself these questions:

  • Where and how do I start?
  • Does my waste stream have value as a resource?
  • What processes will help me successfully transform from a transfer station to a MRF?
  • How do I ensure my facility will operate at an acceptable margin?

Here’s a process that might help you get started on your dream of converting your transfer station to a mixed waste MRF.

Step 1 – Conduct a waste audit and composition study to understand your incoming waste stream

Understanding your incoming waste stream is arguably the most important step in the process. Conduct a detailed waste audit several times during the year prior to moving toward conversion. Narrow the list of accounts down to commercial/industrial/institutional accounts and talk to the drivers who pick up those individual accounts or the routes that you have set up for commercial stops.

  • What do they see at the customer’s stop? (What is in your waste stream and where does it come from?)
  • Does its composition vary throughout the year?
  • What are the desirable attributes for maximizing recovery and are they represented in your waste stream?
  • What is the volumetric distribution of recoverable resources/recyclable materials?
  • Is the waste stream likely to change due to economic conditions?

Step 2 – Gain control of your incoming waste

Gaining control over waste type, delivery timing, and rate is crucial, because it allows you to ensure initial material segregation, which in turn allows you to plan, prepare, estimate, and understand the range of waste expected through your doors. Keep in mind the ancient garbage guy proverb, “You can’t forge a bar of gold bar from a pile of junk.”

So just how do you gain control of your waste stream and ensure it comes to your MRF and not to landfill? This can be done by doing a simple internal audit of accounts that the company handles.

  • Observe the loads as the trucks are being unloaded.
  • Review scale records to determine the weights and frequency of delivery.
  • Develop a range of tonnages that could be expected for several categories of potential recyclable waste.
  • Consider setting up dry and wet collection routes.  This would have a side benefit to start collecting organics. Don’t lose the organics.

Step 3 – Evaluate your pro-forma and use it for business planning

Use inputs from Steps 1 and 2 for realistic pro-forma modeling, which gives you a greater level of confidence in your future business by outlining a clear understanding of costs, expenses, and revenue. Draw out secondary “what if” scenarios to “flesh out” preliminary operational considerations such as:

  • What percentage of recovery is necessary to cover capital outlay/debt service through the avoidance of tipping fees?
  • Will it be a better use of resources to process 30 tph, with 15 people to recover 50 percent of processed tonnage or will it be more profitable to process 25 tph, with 18 people to recover 65 percent?
  • What will happen if the price of a select commodity changes?
  • Is your plant flexible enough to respond to market changes? For example, if your plan relies on soft plastics and the price drops, can you switch over to rigid plastics like high density polyethylene (HDPE)?

Make sure you prepare a well-designed, accurately populated pro-forma, created by those experienced in and understanding of MRF operations, labor requirements, available technologies/equipment, and commodity markets. That way you can evaluate varying potential scenarios and map a path to understanding how best to plan, design, operate, and manage your future business.

Watch this space for future posts on flexible facility design and layout, equipment configuration/selection, operational tips on talent acquisition, and best practice strategies to account for market volatility.

Categories: Solid Waste, Transfer/Recycling/Processing Facilities
Posted By Prentiss Shaw, PE at 11:00 AM  |  No Comments on Thinking of converting your transfer station to a mixed waste MRF?

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