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Morning Brief: Boulder County Recycling Center implements second phase of capital improvements

Boulder County Recycling Center Upgrade (Photo courtesy of Boulder County) The Boulder County Recycling Center recently completed renovations to the facility to more efficiently process increased amounts of old-corrugated cardboard (OCC).

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Boulder County Recycling Center Upgrade (Photo courtesy of Boulder County)

The Boulder County Recycling Center recently completed renovations to the facility to more efficiently process increased amounts of old-corrugated cardboard (OCC). The Recycling Center used to use a double-deck OCC screen which has now been upgraded to a triple-deck OCC screen. This upgrade allows the Recycling Center to maintain high production rates while mechanically capturing increased amounts of cardboard, in particular, smaller pieces of cardboard the facility has been receiving more of recently. This upgrade was essential due to a combination of factors, including the City of Boulder's Universal Zero Waste Ordnance resulting in more cardboard coming to the Recycling Center, and the onslaught of the so-called 'Amazon Effect.'

‘Over the past few years, we have seen larger increases in the amount of cardboard being recycled from Amazon and other online shopping outlets,” explained Darla Arians, Resource Conservation Division Manager. “Many of these boxes are smaller in size than the type of cardboard our older double-deck screen was designed to capture. Now, we can spend less time on the fiber line pulling out small pieces of cardboard and focus our attention elsewhere.”

The Recycling Center also expanded the pre-sort station from a two-person to a six-person station. This station is located where the recyclable material enters the facility, just before the triple-deck OCC screen. The expansion includes the addition of more chutes, allowing sorters to pull out large contaminants which could harm the equipment and cause major downtime events. The chutes also have take-away conveyor belts which take the materials directly to the out-load containers, whereas before this was a manual loading process – this is a huge efficiency gain.

The third part of the upgrade includes a film plastic extraction system. The City of Boulder contributed more than $400,000 from Disposable Bag Fee revenue toward the purchase of the extraction system. Funds collected from the Disposable Bag Fee can be used towards efforts such as this one to minimize bag pollution and reduce waste associated with disposable bags. Plastic bags are a major product contaminant as well as a source of increased maintenance expense at the facility, so this new system is another huge saving for the operator.

While plastic bags are still not accepted at the facility, many slip in accidentally, and the bags are very hard to remove when they get tangled in the machines.

"Plastic bags get wrapped in our screens. We spend hours cutting them out of our equipment. This new system allows line sorters to grab a plastic bag, pick it up, and hover it under the extraction vents," explained Darla. "It is then sent to a collection densifier for storage. That plastic is then marketed to a company who will incorporate the bags into recycled products such as recycled plastic decking."

All these improvements are the second phase of capital improvements at the Recycling Center. Last year, some of the improvements included new plastic optical sorting units with advanced camera and light technology to identify which plastics are on the belt, and a new 100HP air compressor that releases jetted air to propel the identified plastic items into their correct storage bunkers. The high-speed, short-wave infrared hyperspectral detection system takes only one millisecond to analyze items on the belt, drastically increasing the volume of material processed.

"We're constantly working toward making our Recycling Center more efficient and providing our residents the opportunity to easily recycle many of their goods. We are committed to Boulder County’s goal of Zero Waste or Darn Near by 2025, and these improvements help us keep up with the increasing and changing demands for recycling," said Darla.

For more information, contact Darla Arians at 720-564-2223 or

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