The 10 states that make consumers pay a refundable deposit on glass bottles know the incentive works. According to the Container Recycling Institute, their average glass recycling rate is 63%.
States without a so-called “bottle bill” average 24%. New Mexico is one of them, but that didn’t discourage the Village of Los Lunas Solid Waste Division.
Director and Recycling Program Supervisor Marcus Montoya and his team constantly seek ways to reach their goal of zero waste within 20 years.
“It costs us $33.66 per ton to send material to the landfill,” says Montoya, referring to the Valencia County Regional Landfill owned and operated by Houston-based Waste Management Inc. “In 2015, the 11,000 tons we landfilled cost Los Lunas residents $340,000. It’s our priority to reduce that cost.”
Since 1993, the division’s recycling program has picked up cardboard from local businesses up to seven days a week. However, curbside collection doesn’t include recyclables.
Instead, the division accepts No. 1-7 plastics, glass, cardboard, paper, and aluminum at its state-registered voluntary drop-off center next to its vehicle parking lot. To encourage the village’s 15,000 residents to bring in appliances, electronics, clothes, batteries, and paint as well as the usual material, an annual Great American Recycling Event was launched in 2008.
Local Solution to Local Problem
CEMCO Inc., a local manufacturer of vertical-shaft impact (VSI) crushers exhibited at the event with a compact machine that adapts technology used by quarries. The Glass Gator reduces containers and shards to 1/8-inch or smaller sand or uniform 1/2-inch, 3/8-inch, or 1/4-inch cullets, a soft-edged product that’s safe to touch and used for applications including landscaping and aggregate operations.
Four years later, the division bought the demonstration machine for a reduced price of $4,900.
After an operator inserts a glass bottle through a flapper door, the bottle travels down a tube through a second flapper door and into the crushing chamber. There, a fast-spinning metal grinding block crushes the glass through a metal screen with 3/8-inch holes, making the cullet product.
Depending on model, the machine processes 40 bottles or 80 bottles per minute. The electric motor-powered machine costs 13 cents per hour to operate.
As people realized the division was taking glass, they dropped off 6,000 pounds in three years. The division outgrew the entry-level machine’s capacity. Montoya decided to keep the Glass Gator and buy a bigger machine.
“In 2013, we took in 8.16 tons; in 2014, our annual report reported 13 tons,” Montoya says. “The community was so receptive that we asked CEMCO for a faster process.”
$6,000 in revenue in five months
The solution was a glass plant, a system that processes at least 1 ton per hour and is fed by conveyor rather than by hand.
The horizontal rotary crusher includes a 4-cubic-yard hopper and a conveyor-fed crusher with an integrated screen for sizing. A “smart” control system continuously monitors the load and adjusts the feed rate accordingly.
“CEMCO built the machine around our needs,” says Transfer Station Operator Jason Marquez. “They evaluated our process, understood the efficiencies we wanted to achieve, and designed a system that fit into our operation without a lot of extra cost or modifications.”
The company finalized the $65,125 plant in February 2015 and installed it in August. By December, the division had saved $5,450 on tipping fees by crushing 46 tons and brought in almost $400 in new revenue with its product.
The division uses the material for landscaping projects, to maintain its landfill, and for subsurface drainage around the recycling drop-off area.
It sells what’s left to Growstone LLC in Albuquerque, N.M., for $8 per ton. Launched in 2008, the company turns the glass powder into substrates for hydroponic growing systems.
Since January 2016, the division’s earned $376 and saved $1,580 in landfill tipping fees.
“We plan to pay off the glass plant in about eight years,” Montoya says. “As we divert more glass, we expect these numbers to increase quickly and shorten the time it takes to match the initial investment. We’d like to collect from businesses, especially those with an abundance of glass, like restaurants and bars.”
Running the machine two to three times a week for about an hour each time generates 4,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds monthly. The division plans to double production to 36 tons to 40 tons yearly, which will save an estimated $14,290 annually in tipping fees.
It now takes half an hour to process the same amount of glass that used to take a month. As a result, employee overtime fell by 176 hours.
“We want to double the number of customers on our recycling collection route, add a processing plant, and see curbside recycling,” says Recycle Operator Lead Joshua Chavez. “Our goal is to get as many people and local businesses involved in recycling as possible.”