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Republic Services launches bigger, faster recycling plant

This throwaway zone is a thruway.

Republic Services’ new $35 million, 110,000-square-foot recycling center packs a welter of machines, bunkers, belts and sorters designed to process up to 3 million pounds of cardboard, newsprint, glass and metal from around the valley.

The North Las Vegas plant, going on line next week, packs state-of-the art technology, including computerized optical sorters that can separate different plastics and glass by color and density; magnetic drums to pull out iron-bearing cans (like the ones for dog food and soup); and balers that can reduce dumpsters full of newsprint to coffee-table-size cubes in a flash. Materials will travel a mile of conveyor belts driven by 200 motors.

Completion of the plant took a year from groundbreaking to grand opening, which will happen with a media tour today. The plant will initially employ 160 people, Republic Services General Manager Len Christopher said, and will add staff over time as capacity increases.

Christopher said his company’s existing plant on West Cheyenne Avenue was at capacity and the new one next door gives him state-of-the-art capabilities.

“I joke with people and tell them ‘I’ve been running the Indy 500 in a ’69 Volkswagen and I just got the keys to my new Indy car.’ So we’re light years ahead.”

Technology makes everything safer and easier to track and control, Christopher said. For example, a tablet computer lets him track and control any device in the plant. Also, special cables around the plant, called e-stops, can be pulled to shut down machines quickly.

“As you can see how large this place is,” he said. “So what we do is we go to plant layout (on the tablet), I push a button. Now look, I just zoomed in and the problem are in the plant) will be flashing red, and I’ll know, it’s newsprint screen 32.

“I jump on the radio, I have someone over there, hit ‘reset’ and boom, we’re back in business. We’re not standing around trying to figure out where we have an issue.”

In the old plant, operation monitoring required more legwork, Christopher said. For example, the only way to know a cardboard-recycling bunker was half-full was to look in. Now, computers report how many tons of material per hour are moving, and how quickly.

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it; we pull a tremendous amount of data from this,” he said. “I’ve been at this 18 years and technology has come a long way. We can create a much cleaner product, recovery increases, quality increases.”

Speed increases, too.

“In 30 minutes, I can process as much recycling as 155 households will generate in a year,” he said. “And a route truck that travels through the neighborhood? I can process that faster than you can order a latte at Starbucks, in about 2½ minutes.”

Rooftop solar panels will generate enough energy to meet the plant’s estimated power needs for two to three months. And a new 1,000-square-foot learning center includes a cab from a real recycling truck. Visitors can climb in, blow the horn.

Republic Services Vice President Pete Keller said everything with the plant has gone well, on plan and on schedule.

“Obviously (a project like this is) a lot of work, a lot of planning a lot of logistics, a lot of great partners., but thus far things have gone extremely well. That’s a testament to the team, and it’s a testament to the partners we’ve had on the project.”

Keller said the plant is designed to adjust as recycling habits change, and it’s designed for growth. To start, Christopher said, the plant will process 1 million pounds of recycling per day, increasing to 2 million pounds per day as automation is completed over the next three years. In time, he said, the plant will reach the 3 million-pounds-a-day mark.

“I love my job,” he said. “Especially when I have tools like this to do it.”

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