J.P. Mascaro & Sons, Audubon, Pennsylvania, began as a one-truck waste hauler in 1964. Although the company had steadily grown its operations over the years, it had remained focused on collection rather than processing.
Recognizing a hole in the company’s waste service offerings, the organization’s leadership made the decision several years ago to start recycling its materials in an effort to fully integrate the family-owned company’s operations.
“We did not do the processing,” says Joseph Mascaro Sr., director of recycling and sustainability at J.P. Mascaro and Sons. “We’d been collecting it for decades, but we did not do the processing. We felt that it was time that we got into the recycling game.”
In 2016, the company established TotalRecycle, a single-stream material recovery facility (MRF), in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania. Servicing 90 municipalities throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, TotalRecycle aims to simplify the recycling process for its customers through eliminating the need to separate recyclables.
After just two years of operation, J.P. Mascaro & Sons entered into a partnership with Material Recovery for the Future (MRFF) in 2019, piloting a single-stream curbside recycling program for flexible plastic packaging (FPP).
MRFF, an industry-sponsored research collaborative based in Washington, chose TotalRecycle to participate as the processor in the pilot program to demonstrate the viability of recycling FPP at automated MRFs. This recycled FPP is then processed into a recovered product known as rFlex to end users. Prior to the rFlex program, FPP, which consists of items such as retail carry bags, storage bags, shrink bundling and wrap, had not been able to be successfully recovered for recycling.
However, thanks to its lightweight properties and enhanced product performance and protection, FPP is becoming more commonly used in packaging. According to Resource Recycling Systems (RSS), the recycling system consultancy which conducts the MRFF research program, 12 billion pounds of the material is introduced into the market for consumer use every year.
J.P. Mascaro & Sons was awarded a $2.6 million grant to install optical sorting equipment at its TotalRecycle facility to make the recovery of the popular material possible.
“That was about a $5 million upgrade,” says Mascaro. “MRFF helped subsidize the installation of the equipment and we are the practicing partners who are performing their pilot demonstration to actually prove that post-consumer flexible packaging can be recovered in single stream at a material recovery facility. So, the last 12 months we’ve just been performing the demo in conjunction with [the project].”
The upgrade, which included adding four new optical sorters and a Lubo Paper Magnet, increased the 75,000-square-foot facility’s processing capability from 8,000 to 12,000 pounds a month.
“Previous to this, we were spending a lot of time at all the sorting stations trying to take bags and other FPPs off of the line. Now we have the ability to let them go, focusing on other contaminants and hopefully creating a new bale, which is what we’ve been doing with rFlex,” says Mascaro.
TotalRecycle currently processes 35 tons per hour of residential and commercial material. The single-stream line starts with a Bollegraaf drumfeeder to ensure an even flow of material. After an initial presort, a Lubo OCC Starscreen carries OCC across and drops smaller items onto a Lubo glass breaker screen.
The screen removes 2-inch-minus-sized material from the stream, while glass goes to a four-category cleanup system. The remaining stream continues to a second presort station, where cardboard and other contaminants are sorted out.
“[Quality control] is going to get out as much cardboard as they can. They’re also looking out for contaminants that can damage the paper streams, so they pull out any wood or jeans or wires or tarps that may have made it to that point,” Mascaro explains. “Hopefully presort got it, but if they didn’t, the second presort station is there to back them up.”
The stream then heads to a Lubo anti-wrapping ONP screen before reaching two additional screens with progressively smaller gaps to maximize fiber recovery. At this point, the rest of the stream goes through quality control measures before being sorted with the rFlex optical sorters. The final destination of the stream is the new Paper Magnet, which collects all rFlex material.
“At that point, all of the rFlex will stick to the belt,” says Mascaro. “This is a 45-degree angle belt, so the fiber and the plastics will stick to the belt and go over the top. Any three-dimensionals, which are the metals or plastic bottles, will drop down and are then sent to the back of the system, which is our commingled sorting system.”
Referring to the program as a “revolutionary service,” Mascaro is pleased with rFlex’s positive feedback from the community.
“Everyone loves the rFlex program,” he says. “[Residents have] always wondered how to recycle these flexibles and everybody is really excited about just having to throw them in the bin and not having to bring them to the supermarket or other locations they would have had to take them to previously.”
Currently, only residents of the Pottstown, Pennsylvania, community can participate in the pilot program due to its proximity to the TotalRecycle facility and because the city meets project requirements, such as having curbside recyclables collected in wheeled carts. However, Mascaro is rolling out the program to adjacent cities.
“The rFlex is a curbside program, so the idea is to have the rFlex in the regular collection streams,” says Mascaro. “With the program, we’ve made it more convenient—[residents] can put [FPP] right in their single-stream can. Pottstown was the first in the country to have this service. Now, we’re launching rFlex in other local [Pennsylvania municipalities], such as Wyomissing and Lower Providence township.”
To prevent confusion among residents on what materials can now be recycled, J.P. Mascaro and Sons set up a hotline to take calls exclusively for rFlex questions. According to Mascaro, the “ask the expert” line has been “overwhelmingly positive,” admitting that it’s been really fun to answer the phone and hear feedback on the program. Following the adoption of the rFlex program and the system upgrades, the MRF has seen a decrease in contamination rates.
“We’re taking something that was considered trash and now we’re making a product out of it. So, that’s directly helping our residue rate,” says Mascaro.
To further reduce these rates, TotalRecycle hosts educational tours every Wednesday, where visitors can see the equipment and staff in action at the facility. According to Mascaro, the tours attract everyone from sustainability clubs to senior citizens.
“All your asking citizens to do is put this material in the bin,” says Mascaro. “You’re not asking them to take a trip somewhere, you’re not asking them to send anything in, you’re not asking them to go out and buy a special bag at the grocery store, all you’re saying is, ‘Put it over here [in the recycling bin].’ And people can do that. If you put it right in front of them, you get good results.”
According to a 2020 Key Learnings Report from MRFF, TotalRecycle is currently producing between 90 to 100 tons of rFlex bales per month, with the purity of the product at 80 percent. As community collection continues to expand, rFlex production capacity at the pilot facility is expected to increase.
While TotalRecycle has grown significantly in the past few years, the company is still performing upgrades. In Q2, the Mascaro is planning the addition of a collection hood over the mixed-paper sort, which will create a direct line for FPP to be removed by quality control to the rFlex bunker. The upgrade will also include a new quality control station following the Paper Magnet, allowing for the removal of fiber and other contamination.
According to MRFF, the improvements at the facility’s FPP sortation system will help remove containers and ensure the continued output of high-quality rFlex bales. By 2021, TotalRecycle is expected to produce 3,000 tons per year of rFlex material.
“We are always looking for ways to improve our processing and collection capabilities,” says Mascaro. “We’re committed to the long haul and constantly looking for ways to improve and considering other types of recycling to get into. We’re committed to the future. We’re going to go where the need is. Wherever the greatest need is, we’re going to try to fill in.”