Since the adoption of a construction and demolition (C&D) recycling ordinance in 2016, contractors in Austin, Texas, have been faced with a growing need for C&D recycling infrastructure within the city.
3B Automated Recycling, an extension of Austin-based construction roll-off and recycling company Recon Services Inc., has been working to fill that gap through the development of a state-of-the-art automated recycling center.
“We started [3B Recycling] to divert waste from the landfill, since we don’t own a landfill,” says Walter Biel, owner of both 3B Recycling and Recon Services. “So, it was a great opportunity for us to set up a recycling facility for the material that our hauling company hauled, and also meet the new city ordinance that’s in place here in Austin.”
Under the ordinance, contractors on projects where building permits are issued for more than 5,000 square feet of new, added or remodeled floor area are required to divert at least half of the construction project debris from landfill. An alternative requirement is that builders dispose of no more than 2.5 pounds of material per square foot of floor area in the landfill.
Given the influx of C&D debris needing to be recycled by contractors across the city, Biel says 3B Recycling needed an advanced system to handle a growing volume of material.
The facility has gone through several design phases, according to Biel, with the most recent expansion including the addition of artificial intelligence and robotic sorting systems to sort materials with “safety, speed and quality.”
INSIDE THE SYSTEM
3B Recycling’s current facility consists of various pieces of equipment and design elements to create high-quality end products to be sold into the marketplace.
The recycling line first starts with a Builtrite Model 2300-SE electric material handler equipped with an orange peel grapple that is used to begin placing material into the sorting system. This material is then fed into a Komptech Terminator pre-shredder to be sized.
Featuring robust teeth on the shredding drum and an opposing counter comb, Komptech says the Terminator can be used on applications from course pre-crushing to defined shredding.
“The Terminator is important for us because we want to size all the material that comes into our line,” says Biel. “We size our material to 36-inch-minus, so everything that comes up [the line] is very consistent. It’s a great size for everybody to put their hands on—it’s not too big, it’s not too little—and it’s the perfect size for our system.”
Biel adds that having the material properly sized at the front end of the system is a key aspect to maintaining productivity on the line.
“By having everything consistently sized, you don’t have a sheet of … plywood coming down the line that is so big that you can’t put your hands on it. It just allows us to be very efficient in what we’re doing,” he says. “When we first started looking into purchasing a shredder, we looked at other facilities overseas in Europe that have Komptech equipment. We saw it operate and it was very efficient in those facilities, and we’re very happy with it on our line.”
After making its way through the pre-shredder, material is then placed on a two-dimensional (2D) picking line. This process helps sort flat cardboard, paper and plastic materials, an extra step that the company says will ensure a higher percentage of recycling per load.
Once the 2D materials have been sorted out, material heads to a Komptech Ballistor ballistic separator. At this point in the recycling process, the Ballistor will separate out usable fractions from waste and potential recyclables.
By combining ballistic separation with screening, Biel says the Ballistor, in just one pass, will separate the material stream based on three different categories: two- and three-dimensional, rolling-cubic-rigid/flat-soft-narrow, and by particle size.
Next, the waste steam will pass through a high-powered electromagnet placed above the conveyor belt to remove all ferrous materials from the line. Following this, the stream is further separated through a Sparta Manufacturing Finger Screen.
According to 3B Recycling, this unit promotes better separation of waste by spreading the material, thus resulting in a steady flow to the sorters on the main line and increasing the probability that the smallest particles will find their way through the fingers.
Lastly, a Sparta Z-Pan Feeder is used to ensure a steady flow of C&D material to the robotic separation 3D pick line.
Here, the automated sorting process will sort multiple fractions and large objects with one robot, which reduces the need for manual sorting.
With a processing capacity of 913 tons per day, Biel says the 3B Recycling facility is currently running roughly 40 to 50 tons per hour. Given the system’s throughput and high purity rate of materials it extracts from the waste stream, 3B Recycling recycles approximately 81 percent of the C&D materials it receives.
These achievements have earned 3B Recycling the honor of being the only Recycling Certification Institute- (RCI)-certified C&D recycler in the state of Texas.
“It was a very detailed qualification [process]. So, it’s not just a matter of whether you recycle, it’s more [about being able to show] you run a top-notch company,” Biel says, “The qualifications for certification were that we had to be a real recycler, that we could validate where our material went to, that we could validate that we had insurance for our employees, etc. I mean, they looked at our whole company.”
According to Biel, 3B Recycling sells most of its materials to several companies throughout the state for use in their operations.
“We sell our [recycled C&D materials] to different places,” says Biel. “All the metal that we pull out goes to a metal broker, the cardboard we pull out goes to a cardboard company, our concrete goes to our crushing operation, and the wood we have goes to a company and they use it as alternative fuel to make cement,” says Biel.
Innovation in C&D recycling is nothing new to Biel. In 2018, the Construction and Demolition Recycling Association (CDRA) recognized his company as its Recycler of the Year, in part, for its innovation in being the first C&D recycler in the Western Hemisphere to incorporate robots in its operations. For a company used to pushing the boundaries, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Biel says he is looking towards the future in regard to new developments and growth.
“We look at all opportunities that come in front of us for expansions, whether it be in Texas or in a different marketplace,” he says. “So, we are always looking at different opportunities.”