About Our Field Trip to the Azusa Waste Transfer Station

By: TANJA SREBOTNJAK, Director of the Hixon Center

On October 30, students from my E38 course, “Introduction to Life Cycle Assessment,” and ESW/MOSS joined us at the Hixon Center for a tour of Waste Management’s Waste Transfer Station in Azusa, about 15 miles west of Claremont.

Serving about 100 cities in Southern California, the facility accepts construction & demolition debris, municipal solid waste, recycling, and yard waste. It was impressive to see truck after truck arrive and dump their various loads inside a large, multi-level, warehouse style structure.

Two large wheel dozers were busy moving the recycling to the so-called MRF (rhymes with smurf) or Material Recovery Facility, which consists of a compact, multi-story system of conveyors and sorting stations that separate and purify the different recycling streams such as aluminum, paper and cardboard, and certain types of plastics. Up to eight different streams can be handled by the giant, made by Dutch recycling equipment specialist Bollegraaf. The sorting stations used human labor and technologies such as special types of powerful magnets and light to detect and separate recyclables. The human sorters (men and women) worked incredibly fast – in an environment that is constantly noisy, dusty and, of course, odorous.

Our tour guide, facilities manager Marc Harismendy, knew a thousand technical and market details: from the inner workings of the facility’s two balers that press the sorted recycling stream (e.g., aluminum) into neat packages, weighing several hundred pounds each, to the changing quality and price conditions for recyclables dictated by China, which receives 95 percent of the recycled material coming out of the Azusa facility. He knew exactly which cities in the region are good recyclers (Claremont being one of them) and which ones are lagging, how the waste stream changes due to holidays such as Halloween, and how to negotiate multi-year contracts that will keep the MRF, the wheel dozers, and his co-workers busy cleaning up the stuff we throw away every day. Sometimes, the team even gets lucky and makes a good find, but sometimes it’s a more macabre one… Once, Marc proudly shared, his team even found the cellphone of a man who’d accidentally dropped it into his recycling bin and realized it only after it had been picked up. The screen was cracked, but it still worked!

In sum, we learned a lot about the waste sorting and recycling business (or end-of-life management as it is called in life cycle assessment) and will try to reduce our own waste and recycle more accurately.

Below you may view a brief video of the operations taking place at the facility: