Wednesday, May 25, 1994

Tough to Keep, Easy to Recycle: Houston’s Hazardous Waste Collection Recycles Empty Steel Containers

Some things are tough to part with: a favorite, worn recliner; your first baseball glove; that ragged assortment of under-stuffed animals. From basements to bedroom corners, extra space is found to store these things.

But what’s done with things that are challenging to dispose of or keep, such as partially-full paint cans? The residents of Houston, Texas have found a solution. Several public and private enterprises cooperate to recover, reuse and recycle steel paint cans and their contents. In doing so, the partnership crates several new resources from a single product.

Houston hosts a household hazardous waste collection day once every three months to ensure that paint and paint products, car batteries, pesticides, motor oil and special chemical products are safely removed from the municipal solid waste stream. The program is funded by a grant from the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, the state’s environmental protection agency.

While 60 percent of the items collected are shipped to a special waste landfill or to a facility for combustion, about 40 percent are reused or recycled. Steel paint cans are part of this 40 percent.

“We placed a high priority on keeping material out of landfills. Our residents appreciate the fact that we’re able to recycle many of the products from this collection,” said Gayle Gordon, household hazardous waste project manager for the city. “By seeing how well we could work together to accomplish this, I hope we’ve established a trend for other programs to follow.”

Two organizations cooperate to recycle steel paint cans collected through the program. Personnel from the Houston Paint and coatings Association, which is made up of area manufacturers of paints and coatings, screen the collected paint.

If the paint is determined to be resalable, it is separated into categories and bulked into 55-gallon steel drums. Other reusable paint is also poured into 55-gallon drums and shipped back to factories for reprocessing. After reprocessing, the recovered paint is given away to neighborhood anti-graffiti and housing rehabilitation programs.

Community volunteers scrape out empty steel paint cans to ensure only a thin, dry layer of paint remains. The paint cans are then loaded into a roll-off provided by the Proler Metal Processing Company.

Proler hauls the roll-off back to its yard in Houston, where a high density baler compacts the steel cans. On an average month, Proler processes approximately 25,000 tons of different grades o steel scrap for sale to steel mills for recycling.

Thursday, May 19, 1994

Recycling Beyond the Curbside: Factories, Plants and Shops Recycle Empty Paint and Aerosol Cans

Steel food and beverage can recycling has moved beyond the curbside, beyond the drop-off site, beyond the multimaterial buyback center. It has moved into food service facilities of schools, hospitals, restaurants, hotels, military bases, correctional facilities and other commercial and institutional establishments.

What’s left? Well, for paint and aerosol cans, plenty.

Communities have been adding empty paint and aerosol cans to existing residential recycling programs. And now, businesses like factories, plants and shops are developing recycling programs for paint and aerosol cans.

When residents recycle their paint and aerosol cans, the cans are empty of their product. Empty aerosol cans are simply placed into the recycling bin, while paint cans are collected once the thin skin of paint has dried.

When commercial or institutional establishments use quantities of paint and aerosol cans, several additional processing steps are usually necessary to ensure that the cans are empty prior to recycling.

Good business sense dictates that factories, plants and shops should use up the contents of paint and aerosol cans in order not to waste the product. Smaller businesses can be reasonably ensured of routine emptiness; however, larger operations, especially those with several shifts and multiple work stations, may occasionally not use the product to depletion.

For this reason, scrap dealers and waste haulers may require extra processing steps for commercial paint and aerosol cans.

Before implementing a recycling program, a business should consult with scrap dealers and haulers to determine the logistics of the program, including how to collect, prepare, store and ship the containers to the processor for recycling.

One negotiations are satisfied, the first step in recycling paint and aerosol cans is to collect them in a central location, where their emptiness can be confirmed. At this central location, if paint remains in any of the paint cans or pails, it is manually or mechanically removed, then the cans are usually flattened to save space. Flattening also ensures that the cans or pails are empty. In some cases, they may be baled on site.

For commercial aerosol can recycling (unlike residential), preparation involves puncturing, draining and flattening the case. As the cans are punctured and drained, any residual product is captured for reuse or disposal. Any residual propellant gases are filtered or vented to atmosphere where permitted or, preferably, captured and compressed for other disposition, such as flare-off or use as fuel.

After being emptied, the cans are shipped to processors. Depending on how the steel can collection has been negotiated, the business loads the cans into a roll-off provided and services by a local scrap dealer, who will regularly pick up the cans and other steel scrap.

Alternatively, the business itself may haul the cans to the scrap dealer, or a waste hauler may pick up the cans and take them to a materials recovery facility, where they will be combined with steel cans from residential recycling programs.

The Inside Story of Aerosol cans

Dispenser determines various forms in which product is released, such as the fine spray of furniture polishes and repellents, or the streamlined spray of wasp and hornet killers.

Contents are a combination of ingredients and propellant.

Dip tube reaches down to bottom of container to carry productive to valve.

Curved base allows dip tube to reach and use virtually all the product.

Source: Consumer Aerosol Products Council.

Sunday, May 8, 1994

Collecting the High Hanging Fruit: Saturn Corporation Recycles Empty Steel Paint and Aerosol Cans

Spray paint cans, one-gallon paint cans and five-gallon pails: who would have guessed these are comparable to, say, bananas or coconuts?

Al Hildreth, senior environmental engineer for Saturn Corporation, a subsidiary of General Motors, does just that when he describes how his car company’s paint and aerosol can recycling program came into fruition.

“When the Saturn plant opened in 1990, our first priority was to establish a recycling program for the major elements of our solid waste stream,” said Hildreth. “ Then we looked into the recycling of the fringe elements, the high-hanging fruit so to speak, such as paint and aerosol cans. In 1993, we reached up to pick them out.”

The entire line of Saturn vehicles is turned out at a single plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee. Major production facilities, including the power train assembly, the body panel operation, the vehicle interior systems and the general assembly, are located here. Building a car like Saturn’s SC2 from start to finish requires lots of lubricants, paints, and other products commonly packaged in recyclable steel paint and aerosol containers. These empty cans are now collected for recycling.

Steel paint and aerosol cans are collected for recycling at Saturn for two reasons: first, recycling is part of the company’s general commitment to protecting the environment. In addition to steel cans, the company recycles steel, aluminum and plastic scrap; white paper; cardboard; polystyrene; shrink wrap; and sand fines.

The second reason the company collects paint and aerosol cans for recycling has to do with what Hildreth describes as “basic economics.” Empty aerosol cans generated at the plant were previously being managed as hazardous waste, while empty paint cans were being disposed of in landfills. Hildreth discovered that it would cost much less for Saturn to recycle these containers than it did to dispose of them.

In early 1993, a system was established to collect empty steel paint and aerosol cans generated from the production areas and divert them to a central processing location. Several 55-gallon drums with attached lids were interspersed throughout the plant. During the course of a normal shift, employees fill the drums with used aerosol cans, which are collected and taken to the plant’s designated processing area. There, the aerosol cans are run through a machine that punctures and drains them while also capturing any vented gases.

“The aerosol can puncturer was an inexpensive piece of equipment, costing us about $500. That’s how much we were previously paying to dispose of a single 55-gallon drum of aerosol cans,” said Hildreth. “Basically, when we recycled the first drum of aerosol cans, we justified the equipment’s expense.”

After processing, the aerosol cans are carted to a 27-yard roll-off for steel and aluminum scrap. When filled, the roll-off is taken to Waste Management’s material recovery facility in Williamson County for baling and shipment to end market. As many as 5,000 empty steel aerosol cans are collected from the plant a year.

Paint cans and five-gallon pails are collected differently. After fully emptying the containers through normal use, employees wipe the insides out with a rag, and the cans are allowed to dry overnight. The next day, the cans are delivered to the plant’s processing area for crushing. The crushed cans are also loaded into the 27-yard roll-off for steel and aluminum scrap.

“Our collecting system didn’t take long to establish. We had it set up and running in a bout a month, and most of that time was spent waiting for the aerosol can processing equipment to arrive,” said Hildreth. “I would strongly recommend that companies dealing with significant quantities of paint and aerosol cans recycle them.”