C&D in the city

Features - C&D Facilities

How Cooper Recycling transformed its New York City-based C&D recycling operations with the recent opening of its 5-acre facility.

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July 11, 2019

Photo by Leon Treger

Managing high volumes of material is a challenge for every construction and demolition (C&D) recycler, but when you’re located in one of the most populated cities in the world, space constraints put an even greater premium on efficient operations.

That was the challenge Cooper Recycling faced as it worked to process C&D materials out of its 1-acre site in Brooklyn, New York.

Cooper Recycling, which has been in the waste and recycling business since 1946, opened its first C&D transfer station in 1984. According to Cooper Recycling Vice President Naomi Cooper, while the facility was permitted to manage higher volumes of material, the company had to limit what it took in due to space constrictions.

“Like most facilities in the area, we were completely space-constrained,” Cooper says. “We were permitted to accept 1,875 tons of construction and demolition debris per day but processed around 1,100 tons per day, simply because we did not have the physical space to process more material.

“Our 1-acre site was one of the largest C&D transfer stations in New York City, but like other local C&D facilities, we had only one scale for weighing in and out, which created a bottleneck.”

Cooper Recycling introduced a system from Germany-based Bezner in 1991. As recycling markets gradually developed, the company added equipment to build out its sorting line, but the physical limitations of the space continued to impede its ability to maximize its recycling output.

Then, in 2014, Cooper Recycling had the opportunity to acquire a 5-acre site just a half-mile away from its original location. Realizing the opportunity, Cooper Recycling jumped at the chance to expand.

“The opportunity to move to a bigger and, therefore, better site was probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in New York City, so we took it,” Cooper says.

Breaking ground

According to Cooper, the company first conceived of moving to a larger space in 2012. Cooper Recycling spent years laying the groundwork for its design and dealing with local legislative challenges before finally opening the new facility in 2017.

“Since we had 30-plus years of experience working with various pieces of equipment on our original site, we had a preference for certain machines from certain manufacturers,” Cooper says. “We spent three-plus years working with Sparta [Manufacturing, New Brunswick, Canada] on the original design, then changing that design significantly as the markets developed and our opportunities to utilize the new location were realized. Throughout this time, we upgraded the necessary infrastructure at our facility performing electrical work, structural work and other projects.

“We decided to move forward with our final designs in the spring of 2016, and we started erecting support structures for our equipment in the fall of that year. Everything took about eight months to install and then four months to commission before we started up. Our gates opened and our first customer arrived on midnight of Sept. 18, 2017. Commissioning continued while we were running for another six months, and we are still constantly working to tweak and optimize our operation.”

Improved efficiency

According to Cooper, the new 5-acre facility has two inbound and two outbound scales, as well as ample room for trucks to maneuver, which has translated to a significant improvement in dumping times. Additionally, the new space has allowed incoming trucks to queue within the facility rather than having to idle on the street, which benefits the local community.

“This has nearly eliminated the waiting time to dump for our customers,” Cooper says. “What takes an hour at other facilities now occurs at ours in just 10-15 minutes. When you think about the cost of having a truck on the road, it doesn’t take long to realize the value-add proposition for our customers.

“One set of scales operates on an EZ Pass system, so our bigger customers have an even shorter wait time—the drivers do not need to get out of their trucks when they leave, and we email the tickets straight to their dispatchers. The feedback we get from our customers is tremendously positive. And that is all separate from the recycling opportunity we offer. Our hauling customers are able to convey with confidence to their clientele that their ‘waste’ will be recycled, and we are happy to help support them in that regard.”

Sparta engineered the facility’s new sorting line, which is housed in a 95,000-square foot warehouse and includes over 1 mile of conveyor belts and over 120 pieces of equipment from seven different suppliers, including General Kinematics, SSI, AEI, Green Machine, Steinert and Dings.

According to Cooper, the new facility and its equipment upgrades enable the company to process more than 2,000 tons per day and recover up to 95 percent of incoming material, which has helped in securing end markets for the concrete, wood, metal, paper and plastic the site accepts. Currently, Cooper Recycling operates 24 hours a day, six days a week.

“We easily process a lot more material than we did at [our previous location],” Cooper says. “We are no longer constrained by space, and our equipment is designed to handle basically as much as we can accept. We are also picking a wider variety of materials, and through constant adjustments have been able to reduce contamination. However, this is always a work in progress—as you expand your commodity offerings, you naturally have to focus on keeping more of them pure. Having the right trading partners who understand that we offer a consistent stream of material is helpful, and we rely on their feedback to adjust our process accordingly. We are probably uniquely flexible in our ability to fine-tune how we process certain materials in that respect, and it has proven to be an asset.”

Cooper says beyond improving recycling capacity and giving operators more space, the move has also enabled the company to create a more controlled, safe and pleasant working environment for its employees.

“The new location has changed the nature of our operation—we have more people doing quality control than we did before. There is more equipment, which requires more oversight and more technical training, and also more maintenance,” Cooper says. “As the process has become more automated, we’ve been able to promote employees to oversight roles while reducing everyone’s physical burden significantly. There is a learning curve, which means more training at the start, but it has also made operations ultimately safer and easier.”

The pursuit of excellence

Cooper Recycling became the first facility in New York City to get certification from the Recycling Certification Institute (RCI) four years ago. Although the organization recently put its certification on hold due to confusion about language and the intention of certain protocols needed to satisfy LEED requirements, it still provides LEED reports for its customers. While it hopes for clarification from RCI and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) before reactivating its certification, Cooper says that “nothing has actually changed within our process.”

“We maintain our goal to maximize recovery and recycle as much as possible,” Cooper says. “To that end, we are always seeking to innovate, find new outlets and recycle more material. We believe that by aggregating volume and providing a consistent and reliable material stream, we can help support, and perhaps further develop, secondary markets.”

Cooper says the company is currently considering transporting its materials through different channels, such as rail or barge, for additional flexibility. The company is also committed to investing in new technologies to enhance its products, she says.

“[Opening this facility] was a big and complicated process and required more time than we anticipated to optimize and run smoothly,” Cooper says. “We have high standards and expectations and are constantly looking to improve efficiency. It’s therefore critical that equipment vendors share your drive and provide a sufficient level of support. We haven’t stopped upgrading and adding to the processing system since day one. There’s always another piece of equipment to install or swap out, as well as different technologies that address a variety of goals that can help make our operations more efficient.”

The author is the editor for Construction & Demolition Recycling magazine and can be contacted at aredling@gie.net.