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Recycle More, Trash Less: Rumpke Recycling

by Felicia Brower

Rumpke Recycling 3One of the easiest ways to reduce landfill waste is to recycle. Rumpke is a family-owned company providing recycling services to Ohio residents since 1989. In 1992, the owners built a material recovery facility (MRF) in Columbus, which has grown to be one of their busiest recycling centers. The single-stream recycling method makes it even easier to recycle by allowing residents to combine all of their recyclable materials and to let Rumpke handle the sorting.

The facility underwent renovations in 2011, and it is now equipped to process 60,000 pounds of recyclables per hour, an impressive upgrade from its original capabilities. “At our Columbus facility, we recycled 77,000 tons in 2008. Last year, in 2013, that increased to 128,000 tons,” says Jonathan Kissell, Communications Manager at Rumpke. The upgrades allow them to process more materials than they could before, but the increase in intake materials also resulted from the introduction of a citywide recycling program started by the City of Columbus plus an increase in public drop-off programs.

Rumpke Recycling 1The recycling process at Rumpke relies on advanced recycling technology and the diligence of dedicated employees. When recycled materials first enter the facility, they are unloaded into a drum feeder to loosen up the recyclables and prepare them for sorting. Materials then travel on a conveyor belt to employees who remove unacceptable materials by hand before the materials are separated by size via spinning disks which let smaller items fall through the bottom while keeping the paper materials moving across the top and farther down the line. The remaining materials pass through a series of optical scanners to identify products by type using infrared light and then separate them using a blast of air. A flat fraction separator uses industrial-strength fans to remove small bits of paper from the conveyor belt, and overhead electromagnets help remove steel cans from the belt. After a final check by employees for any remaining unacceptable items that made it through the process, the sorted items are packed into bales and shipped out to a buyer. Any glass material is shipped to Rumpke’s Regional Glass Processing Facility in Dayton.

This complicated process happens very quickly, and materials are typically shipped out the same day they arrive at the facility. Making sure that the system is running efficiently is one of the challenges faced by employees and one that residents who recycle can help with. Making sure that only acceptable items are sent to the facility is an essential step. “It’s important to remember that the acceptable items list covers many common household items that any individual would generate on a regular basis,” says Kissel. Even with the wide variety of items on the acceptable list, 5-10 percent of the items Rumpke receives cannot be recycled.

Rumpke collects materials from curbside programs and from larger collection bins as well. The Rumpke truck drivers are trained to recognize unacceptable items and to remove them, which helps reduce the amount of non-recyclable material that finds its way to the Columbus MRF. The public drop-off locations are not monitored, so more unacceptable materials are found there. “Plastic bags are a problem for recycling facilities across the country. The bags get wrapped around the spinning discs and rotating conveyor belts and can jam up the entire process. Eventually it can cause us to completely shut down the plant,” says Kissell. Other common unacceptable items that end up at the facility are car parts, clothing, needles, food waste and bedding.

Rumpke Recycling 2What can be accepted at the facility is dependent upon the end-market buyers for those materials. “In order for an item to be recycled, someone has to have a use for it at the end of the process,” explains Kissell. Rumpke makes sure that they have strong relationships with their end-market buyers so that certain products can continue to be accepted at their facility.

Those interested in visiting the facility in person can attend a tour and see the recycling process firsthand. “The tours are set up to show you that recycling with Rumpke is easy. You’ll get to see advanced recycling technology at work,” says Kissell.

Location: 1191 Fields Ave., Columbus. For more information about Rumpke, or to schedule a tour, visit Rumpke.com/Recycling.

Felicia Brower is a freelance writer based in Columbus. Connect at FeliciaBrower.com or email fmbrower@gmail.com.

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