Growth Has Its Problems, Too

April 1, 2000

5 Min Read
Growth Has Its Problems, Too

Drew Robb

A few years ago, the Browning, Ferris Industries (BFI) Central Los Angeles Recycling and Transfer Station found itself plagued by complaining neighbors, air quality citations and rising costs. In response, it set upon an ambitious course to substantially trim back its budget, streamline operations and develop more environmentally friendly approaches to waste management.

Today, the facility is lean, profitable, and exists in harmony with the surrounding environment.

Trash Mountain Looking like an aircraft hangar, BFI's Central LA Recycling and Transfer Station is the hub of a dynamic waste management program. Each day, dozens of city-contracted sanitation trucks gather up trash from the curbsides of Los Angeles and bring it to the station. A daily mountain of 2,000 tons of collected waste, plus 400 tons of commercial waste, construction and demolition debris, and green waste is dumped directly onto the building floor.

"In addition to the city contract, we service roofing and construction companies, as well as people hauling their own trash," says BFI Maintenance Manager Robert Leonard. The station charges a tipping fee of $44.75 per ton.

A single radio dispatcher orchestrates the day-to-day activities from a large windowed gallery, immediately routing empty trucks out to the city streets to gather more. That's when the real work begins.

Like Beach Wardens during D-Day, the ground crew takes on the job of taming the trash invasion by first dividing it into distinct piles. This is accomplished with three Volvo wheel loaders that scoop and separate the trash.

Once the trash is separated and treated, a small fleet of open-bed trucks enters a tunnel beneath the transfer station. The trucks drive onto weight scales on the floor. Above, the wheel loaders push the divided trash loads through large rectangular ports and into the truck beds. Once a vehicle's load reaches 23 tons, the truck exits the station and heads for a landfill on the outskirts of town. "We use three landfills in the San Fernando Valley: we own one, Waste Management Corp. owns one and the LA County runs another," Leonard says.

As part of its streamlining evolution, BFI found it more profitable to contract the wastes' transportation. Whereas a few years ago, the station used its own fleet of trucks, today, subcontractors ferry the trash to the landfills.

As a result of changes like this, BFI handles more than a half-million tons of trash each month with minimal staff. The entire operation, not including outside contractors, requires only 16 men, including the dispatcher, office staff and mechanics.

Environmental Problems BFI's ultimate efficiencies, however, caused it to run afoul of the local community and government, and with good reason. Only a few years ago, dumping a mountain of trash in one location was a rarity. However, BFI's current facility operations posed serious environmental hazards to the neighborhood, as well as created difficulties with the logistics of stretching the limits of existing equipment. As a result, the Los Angeles Air Quality Management District (AQMD), kept a close watch, especially for dust and odor problems.

"We really were getting hammered by the AQMD, as the people who live and work in the vicinity were up in arms," Leonard says. "We realized that we had to do something fast about the dust and the smell."

BFI conducted a thorough study of the station's problems and decided to use dust and odor suppressant technology. The facility installed a Mee Industries, Monrovia, Calif., dust suppression fog system. It is manually operated and consists of a 2-horsepower, high-pressure pump that delivers water to a series of nozzles near the ceiling of the facility.

A high-pressure pump pressurizes water to 500 pounds per square inch. Water flows to the nozzles via half-inch OD stainless steel manifolds that stretch from one end of the tipping floor to the other. At regular intervals, a series of 120 stainless steel nozzles spray a fine layer of fog to cloak the dust.

For the system to function properly, droplets must be small enough that they don't turn the dust and trash into a muddy mess, but large enough that they slowly float to the ground, dragging airborne dust with them and settling on the trash. The nozzles used are the swirl jet-type with a 0.012 diameter orifice operating at 500 psi.

Next, to control the odor, BFI chose a plant-oil compound, Ecosorb, made by Odor Management, Inc., Barrington, Ill., which addresses odors through an acid-based chemical reaction. The compound is delivered over a high-pressure atomized system. As a result of the new systems, Leonard says, "AQMD complaints are gone, the neighbors are happy and we are within budget."

However, the hard water caused nozzle-clogging problems. It now uses a water softener unit, which removes dissolved calcium from the water and replaces it with sodium. As a result, nozzle cleaning is needed only once or twice a year, instead of every month.

Due to the tiny droplet size, each nozzle emits only 0.6 gallons per hour. Both water and energy bills, therefore, are negligible in a plant of this size.

BFI acknowledges that as a facility grows, problems can grow with it. "When it comes to the environment, you have to be proactive," says Leonard.

"The only solution is to work out a system that actively prevents complaints from ever happening. Anything less than that is going to generate problems from the city as well as your immediate surroundings."

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