Glacier Recycle

Story by Carl Molesworth | September 28, 2010

Material handling is the name of the game at Glacier Recycle LLC in Auburn, WA. In operation just a year and a half, Glacier processes commingled recyclables and sorts them into wood, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, gypsum, concrete and asphalt, cement fiber board, asphalt roofing, cardboard, and various types of plastic.

Glacier's plant, located on 25.5 acres on a hill just outside Auburn, is a work in progress, said Larry Wilson, managing member.

"We've been building our ability to sort the materials," explained Wilson, who co-owns the company with John Yeasting.

Both men come from strong backgrounds in the recycling industry. Yeasting is the former owner of Marathon Wood Recovery, and Wilson previously owned Democon Container Services. They merged their assets, along with the former Rainier Wood Recyclers plant in Auburn, in August 2007 to form Glacier Recycle. Now it's the only independent recycling facility locally that has vertical integration with the container side of the business, Wilson said.

That's a plus for customers, Wilson explained, because not having to pay a middle man to haul their materials saves them about 10 percent of the recycling cost.

Wood comprises about 50 percent of the commingled stream, making the Glacier facility one of the largest wood recycling facilities in the country.

That's a good thing, because Yeasting recently told King County's Link Up newsletter that this is the worst market for recyclables he has seen in his career. Metals, plastics and cardboard have all had huge downturns in prices. In the case of metals, the price has fallen 95 percent from where it was a year ago.

The saving grace for Glacier has been its focus on wood, Yeasting said. Because of the diverse forest products industry in Washington, prices for recovered wood have remained relatively stable. Biomass and wood pulp as an alternate fiber source for paper products are the two markets driving this stability.

In terms of advice for other firms struggling with these market conditions, Yeasting says to control quality as well as possible.

"You don't want to give the market an excuse to not take your material," he said. In addition, Yeasting recommends that you "keep the materials moving, even if for free. Stockpiles will just cause more problems for your business down the line."

Keeping It Moving

Glacier Recycle is a busy place, where 80 to 100 people are involved in collecting and processing an average of 10,000 tons of debris each month. Heavy trucks — both company container trucks and independent haulers — deliver loads of construction and demolition debris at a steady pace and dump them into huge piles outside the plant. Excavators tear into the piles to do the initial sorting.

At the wood infeed of the plant, a John Deere 230LC excavator loads materials onto a conveyor that takes it up to a Universal Refiner horizontal grinder for crushing at a rate of 40 tons per hour. From there it goes to the sort line, where workers in hard hats and masks pick through the material to remove non-wood items such as metals, concrete aggregates, asphalt roofing, plastics, cardboard, clean gypsum, and cement board siding. A BHS rolldeck screen takes off residuals. Mixed lower-value recyclables that can't be ground for alternative daily cover are sent to an industrial waster stabilizer. Nails and other metals are magnetically removed from wood, collected and recycled.

"Commingled loads come in, and we are able to annihilate them," Wilson said.

The goal is to recycle everything that enters the plant, and sorting is the key. Wilson said a 75-percent recycling rate is profitable, and Glacier shoots for over 90 percent.

The wood that emerges from the plant goes to a processing line that further separates it into biomass fuels, mulch products or pulp furnish, which is the high-end product. Currently, Port Townsend Paper buys Glacier's clear urban bright white wood to use in the production of recycled paper. The plant turns out an average of 15 million pounds of recycled wood fiber every month. That capacity will grow with the installation of a new grinder, screen and conveyor, Wilson said.

Good Neighbors

Though Wilson and Yeasting naturally are in the business to make a profit, there is a strong social consciousness at Glacier Recycle as well.

Wilson pointed out that garbage haulers from "green" construction projects, especially those seeking LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, favor Glacier because the company gives them a transparent report to document the recycling. Those reports add LEED points to the project, Wilson said.

In addition, the company is very careful to ensure that only loads of recyclable materials (non-garbage) are accepted for processing.

And despite the fact that the recycling industry already is heavily regulated in terms of worker healthy and safety, Glacier prefers to go the extra mile in that regard. In addition to employing a full-time safety officer, the company is constantly updating the plant to improve working conditions. In the future, Wilson and Yeasting hope to be able to make the inside of the plant dust-mask free with the installation of an automated filtration system.

"We want to be the facility that the others are held up to," Wilson said.