November 20, 2014
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RIRRC single-source recycling facility wins national recognition
Jennifer Rodrigues

The Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corporation (RIRRC) was awarded a gold medal in the Solid Waste Association of North America’s (SWANA) 2013 Excellence Awards for their retrofitted Materials Recycling Facility Tuesday in Long Beach, Calif. The award was for the national competition in the Recycling Systems category and the quasi-public organization was honored at SWANA’s WASTECON conference.

“It means a lot to us,” said RIRRC Executive Director Michael OConnell, adding that SWANA is the premiere association in the country and this is considered the best award one can receive. “It’s not a small task. We’re really happy about it.”

According to a press release from SWANA, awards recognize “outstanding solid waste programs and facilities that advance the practice of environmentally and economically sound solid waste management through their commitment to utilizing effective technologies and processes in system design and operations, advancing worker and community health and safety, and implementing successful public education and out reach programs.” In order to win awards, programs must also be fiscally and environmentally responsible.

RIRRC entered the competition in May, providing great detail about their new facility. Beginning in fall 2011, the process began to transition the facility from a dual stream system to “a highly automated and efficient 50 tons per hour single stream facility.”

“It allows us to separate plastics we couldn’t separate before,” said OConnell about the new facility, which was completed in spring 2012 and just finished it’s first fiscal year of operation.

OConnell believes they won the award because it was a large task to complete, they remained operational during the retrofitting and the project was completed with no issue.

“I’ve never seen something so complex turn on and be able to work properly,” said OConnell about the retrofitting of the facility. “We were not only able to fund this internally without taxpayers funding, we were also on time, on budget and meeting all of the special requirements.”

OConnell also said the size of the Johnston-based operation could play a part in its success.

“We’re a big facility,” said OConnell, adding he believes the RIRRC facility is one of the biggest in the world, processing almost 100,000 tons of materials each year. The property is 1,100 acres and the facility serves nearly 1.05 million Rhode Islanders.

The retrofitting of the 77,260-square-foot Materials Recycling Facility was also cost-effective. An evaluation was completed prior to the transition to determine what equipment could be re-purposed, which reduced the cost and maximized the investment. OConnell said the $16.9 million cost of the project was funded internally.

“We had been saving and planning for a number of years,” said OConnell.

According to their application, by refitting the existing building and not starting from the ground up, the proposed cost was cut in half.

OConnell also pointed out that the single stream system has proven incredibly successful and the tonnage went up 11 percent in FY13 after the system became operational. According to their application to SWANA, baled product shipments have increased by 15 percent because of more materials coming in, lower loss of recyclable to residue and continuous inbound tonnage increases.

“It’s considered easier for consumers because they don’t have to separate [recyclables]. It’s also easier for businesses because they only need one dumpster,” said OConnell. “The message to the consumer is to make it simple.”

He added that the simplicity of using a single stream system would lead to continuous increases in recycling across the state over the years.

“This is really the way everyone’s been going,” said OConnell of the single stream system.

OConnell added that communities that have made the move over to the automated system with the larger receptacles have seen an increase of 15 to 20 percent in recycled materials.

The application also states that the facility has seen improved performance in all areas including improved product quality, operational efficiency, reliability, diversion and safety.

Updates were also made to the education center to reflect the transition to the new system. One feature is a virtual tour featuring 12 flat screen monitors with videos detailing the steps in the recycling process.

“I think if you came in and saw it, it would speak for itself,” said OConnell.


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