Photos provided by Machinex

When Marquette County, Michigan, commissioned Plessisville, Quebec-based Machinex Industries Inc. to design a new material recovery facility (MRF) in November 2020, the county’s solid waste authority had grown accustomed to dealing with the challenges of promoting recycling in its rural community.

Confronted with a lack of participation from residents, outdated equipment and a growing number of recyclables making it to landfill, Marquette County Solid Waste Management Authority (MCSWMA) Director Bradley Austin saw an opportunity to improve recycling not only in Marquette County, but also within Michigan’s Upper Peninsula as a whole.

“We had a dual stream recycling [system] here that we actually built ourselves. This was done by some very innovative staff members that [had been working for MCSWMA],” says Austin. “But, ultimately, we came to a crossroads when reviewing the county’s [recycling infrastructure] and knew that we had to make a decision on whether or not we were going to make an improvement or if we were going to stay [using our existing system].”

According to Machinex CEO Chris Hawn, Austin begun initial conversations with the company in 2018 after becoming acquainted with the company at trade shows like WasteExpo and WasteCon.

“Brad had originally called us [to] talk about his decision and what he wanted to do up there at that facility, so we went up there and visited with him,” says Hawn. “[The partnership] just transpired; he talked about his vision and we had some technologies that were available to meet his goals.”

“He had some distinct ideas, and it was just a great relationship from the start. We spent a lot of time back and forth ironing out the best solutions for his facility and discussing what met his needs. It was probably, from start to finish, a couple year process of doing all the evaluations,” he adds.

The county received a $3 million interest-free loan from New York-based Closed Loop Fund and an $800,000 grant from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to build the $6.3 million facility. The EGLE grant was part of the funding the state allocated to recycling infrastructure in 2018. Marquette worked with Resource Recycling Systems (RRS), Ann Arbor, Michigan, to find the funding opportunities.

WORKING WITHIN THE SPACE

Prior to the upgrade, the county’s recycling system was only capable of processing roughly 115 tons per month, a capacity that Hawn says, “wasn’t ever going to be enough.”

With future growth and outreach into surrounding communities in mind, the new MRF’s design was planned to address two critical areas: minimizing labor and increasing throughput with limited space.

“We were looking to put this equipment in an existing structure, and that was one of the things that I think was probably the most challenging,” says Austin. “We already had a system in place. We had a tipping floor in place with a baler and a conveyor that we had used for solid waste baling for many years, and also for dual stream recyclables. So, I think that was one of the biggest [factors we considered]—that we had an existing structure and a piece of equipment had to be designed to fit within the existing footprint.”

To accommodate the space constraints, Hawn says the MRF needed to be highly automated. With a current throughput of 600 tons per month, the new system features a Mach OCC screen for cardboard sorting, a fines screen to separate glass, a Mach ballistic screen to separate containers from glass and paper, a magnet to sort ferrous metals, a Machinex two-ram baler, and a back-scraping drum to ensure input material remained at a consistent depth.

To sort polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) containers more efficiently, a SamurAI robot was installed, creating a loop that enables containers to be sorted with high efficiency and no waste, according to Machinex. This robot also allows for better recovery rates and reduces the need for manual sorters.

In addition, the facility features an alternative storage bunker to facilitate more processing capacity.

"He had some distinct ideas, and it was just a great relationship from the start. We spent a lot of time back and forth ironing out the best solutions for his facility and discussing what met his needs.” –Chris Hawn, CEO, Machinex

“[Staged] material would go and fill a large walking floor bunker and would stay in storage while [the system] processed the tons from the tip floor,” Hawn says. “Once they had run through the materials from the tip floor, they could then turn on the back half of the system. So, empty the motion floor, or the walking floor, that has all the containers in it, and the material meter can then be set to the container line where we put in a robot.

“The nice thing about the system is that if you just run it with a robot, [you can] put it into a loop where the robot can just pick the PET, and if it’s run out of PET, then we can change it to focus on HDPE. So, the material that passes but didn’t get captured goes back to the same bunker and recirculates until we get what we think are all the commodities out of that. The conveyors that feed that walking floor bunker are reversible and you can purge the system of the remainder [of materials], which may just be the residue, at that point.”

INCREASED PARTICIPATION

Since beginning operations with the new equipment, Austin says the improvement has been “night and day.” For him, the SamurAI sorting robot in particular has been a highlight of the new system install.

“The [SamurAI robot] has been a fantastic addition to what we’re currently doing,” he says. “We have 10 staff members right now on the MRF line, which we just hired. The anticipated volume coming out is also much higher than what we expected, which is a great problem to have. But what it has led to is more hires, more people on the line, and the automation certainly is augmenting that very well.”

According to WLUC, the recent increase in recycling participation in the community can be credited to the switch from dual stream to single-stream recycling. To help educate residents on what is accepted at the MRF, the county posts all the materials on recycle906.com.

Among those materials is glass, which is something that previously had not been able to be recycled in the county for two years.

As of Feb. 23, the MCSWMA reported a significant increase in recycling volumes since implementing its new single-stream program. When compared to January of last year, the authority has seen a 50 percent increase in recycled volume received.

“[The increased volumes] are about more access at the curb. I think prior to this project with Machinex, you had most [haulers] that were doing things kind of in their own way,” Austin told WLUC. “We’re seeing some more standardized cart programs that are being launched in some of the more populated municipalities, coupled with outreach.”

Austin told Waste Today, “In the Upper Peninsula as a whole, there was a lack of recycling capacity. However, I think we’re fortunate in the sense that we’re centrally located within Upper Michigan, and we’ve got the capacity online [now] and the entities outside of Marquette County that can take a look at making recycling more accessible. That’s what really changed here in the region—knowing there is a facility [to go to].”

The author is the assistant editor of Waste Today and can be reached at hrischar@gie.net.