Bring the Baler to Where the Action Is
Whether papers, heavy metal, and debris of all kinds are destined for recycling or for the landfill, balers keep them from decorating the environment. Balers help businesses and municipalities control manmade trash—even for a profit. And unusual finds keep recyclers on their toes.
By Joseph Lynn Tilton
Bring the Baler to Where the Action Is
Sometimes new regulations bring on new troubles. An example is a law passed earlier in the decade stipulating that nothing with Freon is to be put in the landfill. Many Kentuckians couldn’t afford the typical $75 Freon-removal charge, so they dumped their refrigerators and other appliances alongside county roads and in vacant fields and empty lots or even kept them in their backyards.
"It was getting ludicrous," exclaims H.C. Morris of Environmental Recycling Inc. in Lexington, KY. Morris came up with a solution. "We bring in a portable baler, extract the Freon from the appliance, provide verification of Freon removal, then recycle the white metal. The counties, as well as community-minded organizations, provide a place where we can operate and publicize the happenings. In November, for example, we took our Al-Jon 400 baler to six different locations. In three days in Frankfort alone, we recycled nearly 70 tons of white metal. It’s a win/win situation."
The family firm includes H.C., son Shawn, and daughter Boo. "While the emphasis is on white metal or appliances, people will throw in swing sets, fence wire, and a little bit of everything metal. We don’t take steel cable, paint cans, 55-gallon drums, or anything else that might contain hazardous material. There is no charge. We make our profit by recycling every bit of metal."
Morris comments that visitors seem to especially enjoy watching his 26-year-old daughter operate the clamshell bucket. Their services have been highlighted in a number of newspaper articles throughout the 50 Kentucky counties they’ve worked with. "On a typical day, we’ll finish 70 bales, each weighing about 1,200 pounds and compressed into 2- by 2- by 4-foot bales."
They also retrieve any air conditioners and take them to company headquarters for PCB removal. "Anything with Freon, we also set aside. We have a portable reclamation unit that removes the Freon from the appliance. We write down the brand, model number, and serial number of each machine we’ve cleared of Freon, then ship that Freon to Colorado."
Thanks to an updated process, this service yields the family operation 10-15 30-lb. containers of Freon monthly. (A typical refrigerator or window air-conditioning unit can have 8 oz. to 5 lb. of refrigerant.)
After Freon removal, the white metal is placed in the 12- x 6- x 6-ft. hopper and compressed to one-third the original mass. "It’s all enclosed, so we can safely work out of a parking lot. There has never been an injury yet." After the operation is finished, the Morrises clean up the area and move their rig to the next site.
As with other businesses, different opportunities present themselves. Morris recalls the time a liquor distillery caught fire and seven storage buildings burned down. "You could see the fire 20 miles away. It was so hot, the only things left were 721 tons of bourbon whiskey–barrel rings. There were 10 pounds of rings per barrel. That’s a lot of liquor gone up in smoke."
The Morrises spent three weeks at that site. "Again, we did it for no charge to the distillery, just for the recycle value," he states.
Another call took their portable rig to Arkansas, where they crunched tin roofing and siding from an old factory built earlier in the century. "They had used asbestos for insulation, and it was covered with PCBs. Before we got there, they had to take each 3- by 10-foot sheet, wrap it in plastic, and load it on a truck for disposal in Death Valley [California]—at 3,000 dollars per load! Furthermore, they estimated it would take them three to four months."
When Morris explained the difference compaction would make in the cost and speed of the operation, the customer was delighted. Instead of 3-4 tons per load, the compressed metal would average 25 tons—for the same disposal fee. "Shawn got certified to do asbestos, dressed in a spacesuit, and baled the siding. It took just 11 days." The rapid time was possible because they ran their machine 12-14 hours a day. "If it’s light outside, we’re baling."
When asked about any concerns, especially with white metal, he responds, "Only when that refrigerator or freezer arrives taped shut. We save those for last, thanks to the odor from spoiled goods." As it is, recycling white metal has solved the public concern about illegal dumping, owners’ concerns about the cost of extracting Freon, and Morris’ need for family income.