DERWOOD – Montgomery County announced a search on July 25 for a site to accommodate a new recycling facility. The site would allow the county to expand and modernize its current recycling operations. The current recycling facility has been in operation since August 1991.
The Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) in Derwood sorts and processes commingled and mixed paper recyclables was designed to process 80 tons of commingled material a day and 25 tons of mixed paper an hour.
In 2019, it received about 130 to 150 tons of commingled material a day. This fills the shifts of employees and leaves no room for maintenance over the day, which requires that the entire facility be shut down.
“The key reason recycling is struggling is that we have a 1990s system, but expect 2050s results,” said Adam Ortiz, director of the county’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). “It is our duty to take the leap into the next age of recycling.”
The search for a new site is part of the DEP’s “Aiming for a Zero-Waste Plan.” In these plans, the department would hope to expand their operations to include residential composting and recyclable material that the MRF currently does not process. Submissions for a new recycling facility site must be turned into the county by Sept. 20.
“There’s a lot of pressure in Montgomery County and throughout the world to get to a zero-waste society, where no material goes to waste.” said Ortiz.
The recycling facility runs itself as a business, selling the recyclables it processes back into the market. Composting would be another market for the DEP to enter, and so their ideal site would be one that could collocate a food scrap processing facility.
“It’s foolish for us not to get into (composting),” said Ortiz.
The DEP also wants to modernize their equipment, inspired by counties across the country that use robotics and make bricks and construction materials out of plastics in their recycling facilities. There are also optical equipment that can identify material to be sorted out, allowing for smoother processing. There are also more sophisticated recycling streams in Europe and Japan that the county hopes to learn from.
Consumers tend to believe that because plastic has a recyclable symbol, the MRP can recycle it but that is not always true, said Jeff Camera, one of MRPs managers.
The result is tons of biohazardous waste that comes in that brings in acidic liquids into the MRP. These liquids seep into the concrete floors, which puts more wear on the 28-year-old facility.
The DEP is looking for an industrial site that can accommodate a warehouse, processing area and bale storage area. They also want it to be easily accessible from major highways for vehicular access.
The recycling facility has also been affected by China’s ban on importing waste earlier this year. China has struggled with the number of recycled materials it bought from the U.S. that ended up being worthless or contaminated, leading to the ban. It’s affected the county’s recycling facility drastically.
“China’s actions have lowered the price of our commodities,” said Ortiz. “Which means we have to step up our game for efficiencies on our end.”
While the ban has affected the DEP in the short-term, Ortiz is “anxious to take us to the next level.” His vision is not only that of better technology and better materials, but also better behaviors in the consumer stream. He views it all from a business perspective.
“This is all part of the market correction,” he said. “And we’re responding.”