Beginning in summer 2016, the Syracuse University Environmental Finance Center (SU-EFC), in collaboration with the New York State Association for Reduction, Reuse, & Recycling (NYSAR³), coordinated tours of sustainable materials management (SMM) facilities (i.e., facilities committed to waste reduction, reuse, and recycling) in several regions across New York State. Target locations included Watertown, Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, and Rochester, where operations and facilities participating in SMM were identified. These included compost facilities, anaerobic digestion systems, recycling centers, reuse stores, food banks, and more.
To illustrate the quantity and diversity of material types handled via SMM, each regional tour focused on a wide range of materials, such as organics, textiles, and mixed recyclables. It was especially interesting to learn about materials that are not commonly known to be recyclable (e.g., textiles that are ripped and/or stained).
Audiences from various sectors were invited to participate in the tour series. Participants included representatives from NYSAR³, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), municipal leaders, materials management professionals, college/university sustainability coordinators, regional recycling coordinators, members of the general public, and others.
At each featured location, tour guides provided attendees with a behind-the-scenes view of the facility, and described the advantages and challenges of their particular operation. Through these presentations, attendees not only gleaned the current state of recovery for certain materials, but they also witnessed first-hand some of the barriers to higher recovery rates. Notably, the sharing of information was not unidirectional. Tour group participants were often able to provide facility managers with operational suggestions and professional contacts for dealing with the challenges specific to their facility. Additionally, throughout each tour, attendees had the opportunity to share their professional interests and perspectives with other members of the group and to brainstorm solutions to current SMM challenges.
Attendees completed written evaluations after each tour. For future tour locations, attendees replied that they’re interested in plastic film recycling, textile fiber recovery, construction and demolition recycling, electronic recycling, and more.
Watertown, NY | August 4th, 2016
The first tour of this series centered on the city of Watertown, NY. In attendance were 14 individuals from organizations including SU-EFC, NYSDEC, NYSAR³, the Development Authority of the North County (DANC), the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency (OCRRA), and others. The tour group visited the following facilities:
The Fort Drum Compost Facility: The Fort Drum compost facility processes organic waste generated by approximately 17,000 employees, soldiers, and their families. Materials such as brush, branches, pallets, ammunition boxes, waxed fruit boxes, pre- and post-consumer food waste, and more are ground and mixed together and placed into forced aerated windrows. The finished compost product, a nutrient-rich soil medium, is used on base as a forest soil amendment and for residential gardening. In addition to equipment maintenance and weather extremes, facility mangers site plastics contamination as a major challenge of the composting process. During 2015, composting saved Fort Drum approximately $92,000 in hauling and tipping fees from wood waste management alone, and the diversion of food waste, an estimated 350 tons per year, provided an additional $20,000 in savings.
The Thousand Islands Area Habitat for Humanity: The Thousand Islands Habitat for Humanity, located in Watertown, NY and managed by one full-time employee, holds a warehouse sale on the first Saturday of the month from May to October. The warehouse follows a restore model where materials such as lighting fixtures, doors, cabinets, lumber, tile, bricks, and more are offered at deeply discounted rates for residents or contractors involved with home repair projects. The materials are often donated by residents conducting home renovations as well as manufacturers and retail outlets like Home Depot and Lowe’s. Not only does the warehouse reclaim valuable materials headed for the landfill, but the sales help to raise money to construct homes for those in need.
The Watertown Urban Mission: For 50 years, The Watertown Urban Mission has managed the Impossible Dream Thrift Store in downtown Watertown, NY. In addition to various household items, electronics, books, and more, the store also accepts and processes large volumes of textiles, including items that are ripped and stained. After receiving a shipment, employees separate the clothing into resalable and non-resalable collections. The wearable clothing is priced and displayed in the store for resale, the proceeds of which support the mission. The non-resalable items are sent to regional textile recyclers who compensate the mission based on a price per pound. At the recyclers, textiles are either sold in bulk to other countries, or they’re sent to fiber reclamation mills where the materials are turned into new products such as cleaning rags, carpet padding, insulation, and more.
The Jefferson County Transfer Station: Although many counties in NYS now have instituted single-stream recycling procedures, Jefferson County’s recyclable materials are still source separated. One advantage of source separation is that the county does not have to maintenance expensive machinery designed to sort comingled recyclables. Additionally, high value materials such as paper are less likely to become contaminated by other materials such as broken glass, which is separately crushed and sold as a road base aggregate. The additional effort needed by residents to separate materials themselves may act as a disincentive, potentially reducing overall recycling participation rates. For this reason, the county in considering investing in a single-stream system.
Albany, NY | August 12th, 2016
The second tour of the series took place in and around the city of Albany, NY, and was attended by 21 individuals representing SU-EFC, NYSDEC, NYSAR³, Empire Zero, Casella Organics, Troy Zero Waste, Otsego County, and others. The following facilities were toured:
County Waste & Recycling Services: County Waste & Recycling operates a material recovery facility (MRF) in Albany, NY that processes the area’s single-stream recyclables, such as mixed plastics, paper, cardboard, metals, and glass. Once there, mechanisms such as star screens, infrared sensors, electromagnets, eddy currents, human-aided quality control, and others are employed to separate the various materials, which ultimately are bailed and shipped to manufactures to be made into new products. However, the automated sorting operations are often hindered by contaminants in the recycling stream. Especially troublesome are plastic bags, electrical wires, garden hoses, roping, ammunition, and firearms. MRFs face additional financial challenges due to market instability of certain materials (e.g., glass).
Learn more: http://www.county-waste.com/recycling
Radix Ecological Sustainability Center: The Radix Ecological Sustainability Center is an environmental education center in Albany, NY that serves as a demonstration site for various sustainable technologies. One of the main features of the site is a solar heated greenhouse which receives supplemental heating from water cycled via hosing through a large static compost pile. The heat generated via the respiration of microorganisms warms the water which is then cycled through fish tanks in the greenhouse. The site also demonstrates a variety of organics recycling methods: goat and chicken feed, static compost piles, vermicomposting, a micro anaerobic digestion setup, mealworms for polystyrene decomposition, and black soldier flies for meat composting.
Learn more: https://radixcenter.org/
Habitat for Humanity Capital District ReStore: The Capital District Habitat for Humanity operates a ReStore in Albany, NY that offers new and used building materials, furniture, appliances, tools, and more at deeply discounted prices. These materials are donated by manufacturers, commercial building companies, malls, schools, residents, and others. By providing storage and retail space, which at this location is made up of two large warehouses, Habitat for Humanity prevents these valuable items from being landfilled. In 2015, more than 700 tons of building materials were diverted and reused, a figure that does not include all the other materials managed by this operation. Furthermore, the sale of these materials provides much needed revenue for the construction of housing for those in need.
Learn more: http://www.habitatcd.org/restore/about/
Wagner Farms Anaerobic Digestion System: Wagner Farms has a herd of approximately 400 milking cows, plus additional heifers, and therefore has large volumes of manure to manage. The management process begins with collection. The manure is first pumped into a large, cylindrical building with a flexible membrane roof that can hold 260,000 gallons. Inside the structure, the manure is anaerobically digested (i.e., decomposed without oxygen). This process releases methane and other gases which accumulate and build pressure, forcing the roof outward into a dome shape. The gases are then combusted by an on-site generator which creates electricity and heat for the farm. The leftover solid residuals are further stabilized and used as bedding for the cows. In addition to electricity, heat, and bedding, anaerobic digestion is an effective strategy for odor control.
Learn more: https://www.facebook.com/wagnerfarmsdairy/
Buffalo, NY | August 25th, 2016
The third tour of this series was located in the city of Buffalo, NY. The group consisted of 22 individuals who were representing organizations including the SU-EFC, NYSDEC, NYSAR³, the City of Buffalo, Terra Viva, Walker Environmental, the City of Niagara Falls, Sanfilippo Solutions, and more. Toured locations include:
Quasar Anaerobic Digestion Facility: Quasar Energy Group owns and operates this anaerobic digestion facility in West Seneca, NY and is currently recommissioning this location to solely manage food scraps. Once operational, food scraps will first be offloaded at a receiving area and stored in an underground storage tank. The scraps will then be ground up and mixed with water to form a slurry that can be pumped through pipe networks to the other facility chambers. The anaerobic digestion tank, capable of holding 750,000 gallons, will decompose the scraps without the presence of oxygen, which will release methane and other gases. These gases will then go to an engine to generate electricity that can be sold to New York State Energy & Gas (NYSEG). The leftover solid residuals from the process will be composted and stabilized, and used as beneficial soil amendment.
Learn more: http://quasareg.com/new/
Buffalo Recycling Enterprises: Buffalo Recycling Enterprises (BRE) manages single stream (i.e., commingled) recyclables for Buffalo and the surrounding communities. Materials such as plastics, glass, paper, tin, aluminum, and others are deposited at their material recovery facility (MRF) where the materials are sorted, bailed, and shipped to manufactures. This is achieved by sending the mixed items through a conveyor belt system outfitted with mechanical sorting components including star screens, vacuums, electromagnets, forced air, human-aided quality control, and others. As with other MRFs, certain contaminants in the recycling stream can cause serious problems. Plastic bags and other films, for example, get wrapped around the star screens which stresses the machinery and causes the components to malfunction. The entire system must be shut down multiple times per day, decreasing facility efficiency, so employees can climb amongst the star screens to cut away the plastic accumulation.
Learn more: http://www.buffalorecycling.com/index.php
ReUse Action: Another testament to how a small, dedicated staff can facilitate impactful diversions of materials, this operation is similar to the Habitat for Humanity ReStores. In addition to receiving donated materials, however, the team also provides green demolition services. In contrast with traditional demolition, where speed is highly valued and a majority of materials are hauled to a landfill, green demolition is an efficient process that allows for the salvaging and reuse of valuable construction and building materials. Materials available at the retail location include extensive selections of barn wood, windows, doors, flooring, tile, cabinets, appliances, furniture, antiques, and much more. In addition to the materials reclamation, the tour guide stressed the importance of their inclusive, community-minded business model that seeks to create jobs with livable wages.
C.J. Krantz Organics: At this large-scale composting facility, the group witnessed how vast volumes of organic material such as leaves, grass, branches, and other “yard waste” are sustainably managed. Composting is a process that unlike anaerobic digestion takes place in the presence of oxygen, which along with the organic materials and water fuel microorganisms that work to transform the material into a valuable soil amendment. To accomplish this, materials are arranged into long rows called windrows, and are then periodically turned with specialty equipment. Turning the materials increases the homogeneity of the mix, ensuring that oxygen and moisture are well distributed and also ensuring that all materials spends time in the middle of the windrow where temperatures are hottest and composting rates are fastest.
Ithaca & Elmira, NY | September 22nd, 2016
The final tour of this series took place partly in Ithaca, NY and partly in Elmira, NY. A total of 14 people attended the event and represented organizations including SU-EFC, NYSAR³, Cornell Cooperative Extension, Ithaca College, Cornell University, Madison County, the Town of Skaneateles, the Town of Seneca Falls, Casella Organics, and more. Locations visited by the group included:
Tompkins County Recycling & Solid Waste Center: This recycling center demonstrated how an innovative, easy-to-use drop-off site can effectively engage the public and increase material recovery rates. For one, there is a $2.40 fee per bag/can of trash. This fee is used to incentivize residential waste reduction and to increase recycling participation. Secondly, recyclable materials are accepted as a single stream, which means that participants do not sort materials themselves. Most notably, this site has a drop-off station for fats, oil, and grease (FOG), and for organic materials, which includes yard waste and food scraps. Lastly, there are additional drop-off stations for materials that are more challenging to recycle such as electronics, scrap metal, textiles, rigid plastics, plastic films, tires, and more.
Ithaca ReUse Center: Similar to the other reuse stores, this location sells reclaimed and donated materials including household goods, furniture, and building materials. Refurbished electronics such as computers, printers, cell phones and more are also available at affordable rates, and are linked to their job training program called ReSET (Skills & Employment Training). The program strives to assist trainees with the development of professional skills and experience through a hands-on learning environment. Relatedly, the center also hosts a Fixers Collective every Saturday where skilled tinkerers volunteer to repair household items brought in by residents, thus saving these items from being prematurely discarded. Similarly to ReUse Action, the center also provides deconstruction services that prevent 70%-90% of a building’s materials from being landfilled.
Food Bank of the Southern Tier: With roughly 40% of food going to waste in the U.S., donation is not only a solution for reducing landfilled organics, but more importantly it’s a way to connect this surplus with the approximately one out of six Americans who do not have steady access to healthy food. This agency works toward these goals by donating millions of pounds of food annually through partner agencies, such as food pantries and soup kitchens, as well as through direct-service distribution such as their BackPack, Kids’ Farmers Market, Food Bank Garden, and Mobile Food Pantry programs. Volunteers help to glean fresh and nutritious produce from local farms that would have otherwise been plowed back into the soil. Challengingly, however, some large donations made throughout the year lack the nutritional content crucial to those in need (e.g., surplus candy).
Rochester, NY | November 17th, 2016
The fifth and final tour of this year’s series was held in the southeastern suburbs of Rochester, NY. A total of 14 individuals were present throughout the day. SU-EFC, Cornell Cooperative Extension, NYSDEC, the Village of Interlaken, the Town of Seneca Falls, Cornerstone Environmental Group, Buffalo Recycling Enterprises, and other organizations were represented. Facilities that the group toured included:
EWASTE+: With increasingly repaid development and turnover of electronic products, this facility provides the essential and specialized function of electronics recycling, thus reducing the loss of valuable materials and resources to landfills. One of the main concerns for organizations looking to recycle retired equipment is the handling of sensitive data, which is why this company has strict procedures in place to protect to the confidential information of its clients. Acceptable items include computers, batteries, scientific equipment, printers, mobile devices, storage devices, and much more. Unacceptable items include smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, toasters, vacuum cleaners, irons, hair dryers, and more. Ultimately, equipment that is in good working condition is refurbished and prepared for resale. The rest is broken down into its base components and sold for recycling.
St. Pauly Textile: The EPA estimates that approximately 85% of clothing in America is landfilled instead of recycled. According to the NYSDEC, that’s approximately 1.4 billion pounds of NYS textiles per year. At this for-profit company, textiles are collected from local drop-off sheds which are hosted by community organizations. The organizations receive payment for the clothing which they can use to support their organization’s missions. Once the textiles are at the facility, the bags are quickly inspected to verify their contents, shoes are sorted into a separate stream, and then the textiles are bailed for distribution. Due to a great need for clothing around the world, the textiles are not only shipped throughout the United States, but also internationally. And, clothing is also supplied locally if there is a need, all for pennies on the pound.
Casella’s Ontario County MRF: Similar to the Albany and Buffalo MRFs, the household recyclables of Ontario County, NY residents are handled via a contract with Casella who manages a local Zero-Sort recycling facility. Here, as with the other MRFs, recyclable materials are received in a single, commingled stream. Materials include paper, cardboard, glass, metal, and plastics #1 through #7. Unacceptable materials include wax coated paper and cardboard, paper towels, drinking glass, scrap metals, plastic bags and other plastic films. The plastic films are especially troublesome because they get caught up in the spinning components of the facility and shut down production multiple times per day. In the end, materials are separated into their original categories, bailed into large cubes, loaded onto trucks, and shipped to manufactures to be made into new products.