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Friday, Jan 27, 2023
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Keeping An Eye On The Trash

Ever feel guilty about tossing a plastic water bottle in the trash at work? A talk with Greg Loughnane and Eric Winkler might ease your conscience a bit. Loughnane is president of La Puente trash hauler Athens Services, and Winkler is a sales manager with Bulk Handling Systems, a Eugene, Ore. company – the two driving forces behind Athens’s new Sun Valley materials recovery facility. The $50 million facility opened last month and processes recyclables collected from commercial and multifamily properties throughout Los Angeles. But what really makes it special is its capability also to extract recyclables mixed in with nasty garbage like food waste or dirty diapers. “It’s a new era in the industry,” Winkler said. “In this area, there is nothing like it.” The 80,000-square-foot plant features a system of conveyors, separators and screens that can process 1,500 tons of trash per day, with minimal help from workers who perform quality control and pull out bulky items too big for the system. High technology does the rest. For example, an air density separator blasts out high pressure gusts to remove paper, while metal objects get pulled out by magnets. But the stars of the show are multiple optical sensing machines that sort the plastics. They are made by National Recovery Technologies, a Nashville subsidiary of Bulk Handling that started developing the technology in the 1980s. The machines use computer-controlled spectrometers that scan conveyor belts moving at 600 feet per minute, separating high-value water bottles, detergent dispensers and milk cartons from lower value materials, such as those made of Styrofoam. The sensors scan the line 10,000 times per second, with each individual machine programmed to detect different types of plastics based on their shape. A puff of air deposits the plastics into separate bins within milliseconds. Neither Loughnane nor Winkler would disclose the cost of the optic sensors in use at the Sun Valley facility, but the SpydIR-R and SpydIR-T models are National Recovery’s latest. Athens believes the facility will help it get more business amid a push by the state and city to decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills. While large generators of trash such as big box stores already recycle, much of the trash from smaller companies and multifamily buildings still contains recyclable mixed in with it. “By purchasing this equipment we can focus on making a big dent on material going to a landfill,” Loughnane said. “We are going after the harder stuff to get out of the source stream.” About 50 workers are employed on one shift, with a second shift to be added early next year. – Mark R. Madler

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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