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Do you know where your recyclables are? Probably not

October 26, 2018

By Michael Harris

Industry, engineers, and builders partner to invigorate sagging global market for recyclables

For several decades now, municipal solid waste has been routinely collected and, in many communities, separated into at least two streams. Solid waste goes to the landfill. Recyclable material–plastic, glass, aluminum cans, cardboard, and paper—goes in another direction to be reconstituted into useful products. 

Hate to burst your bubble

The good news? We’ve been pretty good about recycling. The bad news? The market for recycled products has not kept up with the volume of diverted recycled materials. Moreover,  just recently, the US lost our largest market for discarded plastics. China, which had been importing millions of tons of recyclables, is no long accepting them. Now the U.S and other western countries are struggling with what to do with all these recyclables.

The reality is, except for plastics stamped #1, some paper, and cardboard, most of the material we place in bins does not actually get a second act. It, too, is headed to the landfill.

Forge front end upgrade.

Time for new ideas

But there is a better way. An ideal situation for municipalities might marry a more efficient way to remove useable material from the waste stream and then turn this cleaner product into an in-demand product.

Today, we are working on two exciting alternatives to placing recyclable material in landfills: solid fuel used as a replacement or supplement to coal, and architectural boards for construction.

The process for converting trash to fuel is already established. For example, SpecFUEL is a product manufactured from municipal solid waste and recycled materials into an alternative fuel source. Continuus Material Recovery, a waste to resources company builds, owns, and operates the SpecFUEL solid fuel processing facility.

Now, Continuus Material Recovery is planning mass production of another recycled commodity—a high performance sustainable architectural board that has wide application in commercial construction. Using a design-build approach, Stantec and construction manager Gilbane are creating the space to make this happen.

We’re developing a facility that turns municipal solid waste and recyclables into 100% recycled boards and a clean fuel alternative to coal.

Forging a facility for an entirely new process

Essentially, we are developing a facility that will beneficially re-use waste materials: turning municipal solid waste and recyclable material into 100% recycled boards AND a clean fuel alternative to coal.

Extensive research and development and a cavalcade of expertise has assembled to site; design a facility to receive waste; separate recyclable material; produce boards; package boards; and deliver them to their destination. In cooperation with Waste Management, we are adapting the existing Forge SpecFUEL facility to accommodate a separate line for a high-volume manufacturing of the boards.

We’re working closely with equipment vendors to develop specifications for the complex separation process, and the conveyance system to mass produce these high-performance boards at a sufficient pace to reach the needed economy of scale. Stantec experts across North America have made important contributions, including one veteran of conveyor system design, and another with extensive experience specifying equipment to manufacture OSB panels.

Recycled material in Des Moines.

A model for success

A dearth of economical end products has stymied effective solid waste recycling. And pressure on municipalities is only expected to grow. Without sound alternatives, many municipalities will burn trash or expand landfills, both difficult undertakings.

As part of this business coalition, we’re able to balance creativity with focused technical expertise in this vital field. Our team is now developing the test facility in Pennsylvania that will continue to produce clean fuel and eventually turn out 50 million square feet of boards per year—100% beneficial reuse of trash. I believe it will be an important, potentially groundbreaking, alternative use for municipal solid waste and recyclable materials.

It’s is exciting to be in on the ground floor of this initiative—a great example of the circular economy in action.

  • Michael Harris

    Educated in chemical engineering with a concentration in biomedical engineering, Mike is privileged to be able to apply his technical knowledge and solve real life problems for the biopharmaceutical industry

    Contact Michael
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