Recology’s revamped waste facility in San Carlos reeks of efficiency

By Kristen Marschall – The Mercury News, September 27, 2011

A black high-heel shoe, an empty Skippy peanut butter jar and a phone book sailed along one conveyer belt. Mailers, newspapers and manila envelopes headed north on another. Below the maze of moving recyclable materials, a man throws plastic bottles into a pit where hundreds — maybe thousands — of them are piling up.

It’s all part of the busy network inside the improved Materials Recovery Facility at the Shoreway Environmental Center in San Carlos. If you’re a San Mateo County resident, the odds are good that Recology San Mateo County carts your unwanted materials to the Shoreway Road facility.

“San Carlos is known as ‘the city of good living,'” San Carlos Mayor Andy Klein said Tuesday. “Now it’s also the ‘city of good trash.'”

After a roller-coaster seven years of planning, building the new recycling facility and expanding the transfer station, city officials who sit on the South Bayside Waste Management Authority’s board showed up Tuesday to tour the operation they authorized. Recology employees donned recycled fashions by Haute Trash that included a FedEx envelope wedding dress and a gown made with snack bags.

The board, which oversees the waste management authority commonly known as RethinkWaste, is composed of representatives from Atherton, Belmont, Burlingame, East Palo Alto, Foster City, Hillsborough, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Carlos, San Mateo, San Mateo County and the West Bay Sanitary District. It and the individual municipalities all had a say in the project’s approval.

“This was the toughest period of time,” said Kevin McCarthy, executive director of RethinkWaste. “There was political peril at every corner.”

The site is owned by RethinkWaste and operated by South Bay Recycling. Recology trucks in waste from homes and businesses.

“No one thought (these facilities) could be done at the same time, no one thought they could be done on time,” McCarthy said. “But we delivered exactly what we said we would and under budget.”

Part of the $47 million project is a larger transfer station with more unloading space for customers and the ability to sort higher volumes of waste — huge mounds organized by compost, yard waste, construction/demolition debris and general trash. Semi-trucks transport the materials to their various destinations, from landfills to composting and biofuel facilities.

But the real star of the show on Tuesday was the Materials Recovery Facility, which officially opened in the spring. State and local officials praised it as a national green technology model for its ability to handle single-stream recyclables, or commingled bottles, cans and paper. The facility also features an educational center for schools and community groups that’s slated for a soft start in the fall before fully running in spring 2012.

With about 22 sorters on the line at any given time, only about 7 percent of the material ends up as trash, said Monica Devincenzi, recycling outreach and sustainability manager.

Eighty percent of recyclables, however, end up in China for remanufacturing, said facility operations manager Hilary Gans.

He said 45 to 50 tons of recyclables are processed each hour and 250 tons each day.

“We have to stay busy, because if we don’t, the material will literally bury us.”

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