Resource Recycling News

Details on Oregon’s $150M trash-sorting MRF

The $150 million price tag on the new Lane County, Oregon, facility will be footed by Bulk Handling Systems and the county. | Courtesy of Bulk Handling Systems

An upcoming facility in Lane County, Oregon, will process mixed waste, commingled recyclables and organics and is projected to boost the county’s diversion rate by as much as 20 percentage points.

County officials say the recycling system supplied by local manufacturer Bulk Handling Systems (BHS) will make the plant among the most technologically advanced waste processing facilities in the U.S. It will extract organics and recyclables from the garbage stream and will process the organics onsite with an anaerobic digester. It will also include a commingled recyclables processing line, meaning material can be processed locally rather than trucked to the Portland area 100 miles to the north, where the nearest MRFs operate.

Lane County commissioners voted last December to move forward with the project, which is estimated to cost $150 million. BHS (based in Eugene, Oregon, which is also in Lane County) will put up $100 million in equipment costs, while the county has approved spending $50 million on site preparation and building construction. The facility will be constructed on a 26-acre site in Goshen, Oregon, adjacent to Interstate 5.

Jeff Orlandini, waste management division manager for Lane County Public Works, told Resource Recycling the idea of a mixed waste processing facility had been kicked around for almost a decade, but it began to gain steam when the county in 2018 adopted a goal to reach a 63% diversion rate. The county has hovered around 50% to 55% diversion, Orlandini said, and county documents indicate it was at 49.7% in 2023.

County stakeholders knew organics diversion would be a big component of such a substantial diversion increase, Orlandini said. In April 2022, they put out a broad request for proposals for a processing facility that would get the county up to 63% diversion, hit various climate goals and process one or more targeted waste streams, including municipal solid waste and organics.

The request for proposals also indicated the county didn’t want to make changes to the collection system to reach the diversion goal. Instead, the county zeroed in on how it could improve processing material that’s already collected. Collection is handled by 13 private haulers throughout the county, collecting garbage and single-stream recycling, with some municipalities also including glass, yard debris and organics collection.

Out of four proposals, BHS was selected largely because its plan would surpass 63% and the facility would include anaerobic digestion. The county anticipates the facility will boost diversion to between 63% and 70%, Orlandini said.

BHS and Lane County plan to break ground on the facility during the third quarter of 2024 and to have it operational by late 2025.

Processing three major waste streams

BHS has been supplying mixed waste recovery equipment for nearly two decades. CEO Steve Miller told Resource Recycling the company patented an automated process for mixed waste recovery in 2007, around the same time its customers were requesting that type of equipment to boost diversion rates. Its first major mixed waste installation was at GreenWaste in San Jose, California, and it also worked with Athens Services in Los Angeles. BHS was also developing an anaerobic digestion system around the same time, and in 2010 it formed Zero Waste Energy, a subsidiary focused on that sector.

The Oregon facility is similar in intent and process to the GreenWaste plant and to South San Francisco Scavenger near San Francisco. Lane County officials took several tour trips to California facilities while developing the mixed waste facility idea, according to county documents.

Miller explained the Lane County plant will feature three systems: A mixed waste (municipal solid waste) processing line from which recyclables and organic material will be extracted; a traditional recyclables sortation line and an anaerobic digester.

“Most of what happens with the waste processing side is pulling out organics,” Orlandini said. 

Because the county is maintaining separate curbside recycling collection, rather than moving to a one-bin system, Orlandini said the county anticipates a relatively low amount of recyclables recovered from the garbage. But despite some municipalities providing an organics collection option, there is a lot of organic material in Lane County’s garbage stream. BHS anticipates hitting roughly 50% diversion on the mixed waste line – that is, for every 100 tons of garbage coming in, 50 tons would be going into the anaerobic digester.

The extracted organics will go to an on-site anaerobic digestion system. It’s a plug-flow system, Miller said, and it will produce a biogas that will be cleaned and injected into a natural gas pipeline operated by regional energy company Northwest Natural. It will create “a significant quantity of renewable natural gas,” Miller said. 

Using biomass to create transportation fuels opens the project up to an investment tax credit the project will take advantage of, Miller noted. It’s also receiving cost reductions from provisions within the Inflation Reduction Act and a state clean fuels program.

The facility will create revenue by selling the output products – natural gas, treated compost and recyclable commodities.

Miller anticipates the recovered recyclables will primarily be plastics and metals, as the organics-soiled fiber products are often too contaminated to be recycled by that point. The plastics and metals will be good quality recyclables, ready for sale to the same markets as recyclables sorted on typical single-stream processing lines.

The mixed waste processing line will bring in at least 160,000 tons per year of municipal solid waste, curbside garbage that was previously going directly to the landfill. Instead it’ll go to the BHS facility for an initial pass through the mixed waste processing equipment.

Miller noted the facility is located on the highway most haulers already use to take loads to the landfill, so they will simply take a different turnoff. Miller estimated not having to go all the way to the landfill may save the haulers 20 to 30 minutes per haul. After BHS sorts the mixed waste, the remaining non-recyclable and non-organic portion will be transported to the landfill by BHS.

“We’re not competing with anyone, and we’re not changing any of the infrastructure now in place,” Miller said.

Bringing much-needed capacity

The additional diversion achieved on the mixed waste processing line is expected to boost the county landfill’s life by at least 20 years, Orlandini said.

It’s also a big opportunity to reduce the cost associated with processing recyclables. Miller said virtually all the commingled recyclables collected right now get transported elsewhere, typically Portland-area MRFs, for processing. 

“There’s obviously a very significant cost associated with that, and carbon emissions,” he said.  The Lane County facility will be well-suited logistically to process recyclables generated in the central or southern portions of the state, Miller added, reducing travel costs.

The additional capacity also comes at a time of projected expansion in Oregon’s recycling system: The state is in the process of implementing extended producer responsibility (EPR) through the Plastic Pollution and Recycling Modernization Act, which will begin updating recycling programs throughout the state next year.

Orlandini noted the MRF will become operational around the same time the EPR system will begin to be implemented, and that the new processing capacity will benefit local communities as they add additional materials to their recycling programs.

“It really sets up the county to have a business here that’s going to be able to market those materials locally,” Orlandini said.

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