PROCESSING: University Transfer Station Graduates to Recycling Center

While the University of Illinois, Urbana, provides a focal point for higher learning, its transfer station provides a centralized location for all campus waste to be collected and compacted before it is shipped to the Brickyard landfill in Danville, Ill., approximately 45 miles away.

In operation for more than 30 years, the transfer station has been "invaluable" - especially when the Urbana landfill closed its doors in the late 1980s, says Tim Hoss, campus recycling coordinator. Typically, 82,000 cubic yards of solid waste were landfilled each year, but once the transfer station stepped up to full capacity and the campus recycling program began in the late '80s, the volume of waste being landfilled was reduced to 32,000 cubic yards.

However, when incentives to recycle increased the amount of materials the transfer station received, the university began to outgrow its facility. Because it already was planning eventually to build a materials recovery facility (MRF), just as the recycling markets peaked in 1995, the university expanded its transfer station to accommodate a new MRF.

When it opened its doors in November 1997, the new facility, which houses a sorting platform and baler, originally was designed to make university recycling more feasible, Hoss says. However, the university soon discovered that the new facility would become "critical" to maintaining the campus' recycling program. Approximately eight months before the facility was completed, Champaign County's two largest recycled materials processing centers, Community Recycling Center and Weyerhaeuser Recycling of Champaign, closed, leaving the campus without a local destination for its materials.

Paper had to be delivered by truck to Weyerhaeuser Recycling in Bloomington, Ill., approximately 60 miles away, thus increasing the school's recycling costs. "We were baling cardboard, but we didn't have a facility to process paper," Hoss says. "When the [Weyerhaeuser] facility closed, we had to haul 50,000 to 60,000 pounds of paper per week to Bloomington for processing." But with the new facility, paper could be sold directly to a mill or through a dealer at a higher price.

Currently the MRF operates five days per week, with special hours in the fall and summer when students move in and out of dormitories. Approximately 8,000 tons annually, or 30 tons per day, of campus waste and recyclables run through the facility. It is manually sorted as it is transported along a conveyor belt. The recovered recyclables - approximately 25 percent of the waste stream - and recyclables from the campus' recycling program then are baled and shipped for sale. The university sells approximately 135 trailer loads of office paper, corrugated cardboard, aluminum and plastics per year. (Approximately two to three loads of office paper are shipped per week, three loads of cardboard per month, and one load of aluminum and one load of plastic every six months.) Loose scrap metals, approximately 1,000 cubic yards per year, are recycled. Remaining waste is compacted and hauled to Danville's Brickyard landfill.

With the addition of the sorting line, the number of trailer loads of waste hauled to the landfill has been reduced from 250 semi-loads to 200 semi-loads per year, and the number of 30-yard roll-off containers has been reduced from 150 to 130.

Overall, the MRF has helped the university enhance the value of its recyclables while reducing its dependency on local companies who currently provide processing services, Hoss says. Eventually, the MRF's goal is to increase the campus recycling rate to the 40 percent to 60 percent range.

The potential increase in recycling is based on waste stream analyses conducted in 1994 and 1996, which showed significant levels of recyclables remain in the campus waste stream despite the university's campus-wide recycling program, Hoss says. The new operation is designed to maximize the school's recycling program and further reduce waste disposal costs.

It is estimated that $300,000 in landfill costs can be avoided per year through the university's solid waste program, which includes recycling materials such as landscape waste, animal bedding, concrete, scrap equipment, tires, batteries and more. And by centralizing the school's recycling efforts in the MRF, the university now can collect and separate larger quantities of common recyclables.

"We're fortunate that our waste stream is consistent and cleaner than the municipal solid waste stream - it's drier and higher in recyclables," Hoss says. "For years the campus has been good about the materials that it recycles. We get approximately 2,000 tons of materials through the university's recycling program, which provides clean sources of paper, cans and plastic. This doesn't include other recyclables that can be picked out of campus waste. Our biggest challenge, however, will be finding markets for the materials."

The project was partially funded by a $100,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs, Springfield, to help purchase sorting and processing equipment. Revenues from the sale of recyclables, approximately $200,000 per year, are expected to cover the cost of the expanded operation. Eventually, it is expected that the facility will be self-supporting.