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Company processes recyclables at “Willy Wonka-like” facility

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The newspaper you just threw in your recycling bin begins a wild new life if it’s processed at a recycling center on Fruitridge Road in Sacramento.

That’s because newspapers, soda cans, cardboard boxes and all kinds of recyclable goods move through a huge, mechanical system at the Sacramento Recycling and Transfer Station owned by BLT Enterprises.

Midtown businessman and environmentalist Scott Smithline describes BLT’s Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) system as a “Willy Wonka-like” process for recyclables.

At the end of their journey at the MRF, the recyclables are combined by type.

General Manager Kurt Standen explained that the materials are “squashed into these rectangular bales that weigh about 1,300 pounds a piece.”

While chocolate and magic are not part of the mix at BLT’s center, the MRF is a little bit like Roald Dahl’s chocolate factory because it takes materials through many twists and turns and spits them out into something new.

Each day, the MRF turns about 500 tons of your recyclables into massive bundles that are then sold to paper mills, metal recycling companies, and other firms, Standen said.

BLT Enterprises is a privately owned company that contracts with the city, county and other clients to collect and sell recyclables, noted Standen.

The facility takes in recyclables such as cardboard, paper, aluminum, plastics, tin cans and glass.

During a tour of the recycling facility last week, staffers from The Sacramento Press observed some out-of-the-ordinary transformations of ordinary household items.

Editorial staffer Jonathan Mendick saw a recyclable item create a pink cloud as it was processed through a machine. The cloud appeared to come from a pink wiry rope that got stuck on its way through the machine, Mendick said.

The MRF includes machines called “screens” that sift recyclables into groups. Standen explained that the screens consist of discs attached to rotating shafts. Visitors to the site can watch the materials jump into the air.

“Larger pieces of paper and cardboard kind of walk up (the screen),” he said, “and that’s what you’re seeing popping up there; it looks like popcorn in a sense.”

The screened recyclables are moved onto conveyor belts. Workers staff the conveyors and remove trash, contaminated materials, and any recyclables that don’t belong in the screened group, Standen explained.

Another striking feature of the MRF is a large magnet that gathers metal items.

Geoff Samek, editor-in-chief of The Sacramento Press, was amused at the sight of a can of beans moving toward the magnet.

The recession has caused BLT some headaches with its inventory and sales. “It’s been very rough, but we do have people that work constantly trying to make deals for material,” Standen said. “And we’ve been able to sell it.”

At the end of October and November, BLT’s facility became crowded with inventory that wasn’t selling, he said.

After the facility became full, BLT moved inventory to offsite locations in December and January. The company’s inventory filled about 40,000 square feet of space in two offsite locations.

“Things were rough,” Standen said, and the company needed to sell more of its materials. With so much excess inventory, the facility faced difficulties with space restraints and aging materials.

The company was able to sell all of its stored materials by dramatically lowering its prices, which Standen described as “very depressed.”

The sign of an improving economy will be when demand goes up, Standen said.

Still, the company was able to sell its stored materials, even though prices were low. BLT no longer has any material stored offsite, Standen noted.

“It’s still not where we want it, obviously, but it is getting better,” Standen said, adding that the company sells paper and cardboard to mills in China.

Some of the company’s other clients include Georgia-Pacific, a paper manufacturer, and JC Horizon LTD, an exporter of recyclables. Local companies, including Ming’s Recycling Company, also purchase recyclables from BLT.

BLT Enterprises offers tours of its recycling center. Call the company at 379-0500 to make an appointment.

*Photos by Anthony Bento

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