Tulsa recycles on the rails; Mr. Murph 2.0 makes difficult recovery from April fire | Local News

What was supposed to be a holiday gift arrived a little later than expected, Robert Pickens said, but the big reveal has sparked equal excitement.

“It was a bit like Christmas,” the vice president of recycling at American Waste Control said as he saw materials moving along the sorting machine’s conveyor belts for the first time since a major fire. “Life is finally back to normal.”

Mr. Murph 2.0, the materials recovery facility that sorts recyclables dumped in Tulsa’s blue bins, kicked off with a roar this week as crews who had thoroughly tested the machine’s components after installing its ” brain” gave the go-ahead to run the whole system.

The old MRF was destroyed in a fire in April, investigators traced an improperly disposed lithium-ion battery. Some batteries are recyclable specific locationslike Best Buy or Batteries Plus, but not at AWC’s Tulsa Recycle & Transfer Center.

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The rechargeable culprit fell into a pan and turned into a flame overnight, when the facility was shut down, and turned into an inferno that turned rubber into lava and twisted steel beams .

Recyclables in Tulsa have been sent to the same place as the city’s garbage – Covanta Tulsa’s waste-to-energy kiln – for the past 11 months, but separate collection for recycling and garbage restarted in January .

Pickens said Friday that all of the city’s recyclables were once again feeding Mr. Murph.

In full operation since Wednesday, the system is not yet fully operational, processing about 42,000 recycling pounds per hour versus a desired 53,000, Pickens said, but that should increase over time. Technicians are making final adjustments to the expanded and staggered configuration as well as calibrating nine robots, one of which is the first of its kind to be installed in the world, Pickens said.

Bulk Handling Systems’ collaborative robot, or Oregon-based CoBot, has two mechanical arms that suck up a desired object moving along a strip and toss it into a trash can with a quick puff.

Other artificially intelligent robots on the line include optical sorters and attendant machines that could knock any arachnophobe out of the warehouse, joked AWC Vice President Paul Ross. The pod machines have viewing panels that reveal a few fast-moving sorting robots with spider-like elbows.

Adding the air systems created a different kind of chorus in the installation, but Ross said it was all “music to our ears.”

The average construction time for a facility comparable to Tulsa – which was the most advanced MRF in the state before the fire and is now the most advanced MRF in a five-state region: Texas, New- Mexico, Kansas, Louisiana and Arkansas – is 18 – 22 months, Pickens said. But thanks to AWC’s partners, the timeline for the project has been accelerated.

The process will continue in the coming months as Nashville-based National Recovery Technologies reviews data reports and uploads changes to the machines to make them more efficient while technicians work in the field. AWC now also has access to hour-by-hour data on the type of recyclables processed by each machine, which Pickens says will greatly benefit the company in targeted public education.

The community-wide setback and $11.6 million and growing damage caused by this small battery unfortunately hasn’t stopped the batteries from being recycled by residents, Pickens said, but in addition to education, the AWC plans to install a fire suppression system to prevent a repeat of history. Pickens said the system, from Michigan-based Fire Rover, monitors heat signatures and uses remote-controlled cannons to proactively coat an area that exceeds a certain temperature with flame-retardant foam.

Pickens said the cleanliness of the recycling stream was better than he expected upon his return, but there’s always room for improvement. The “cleanliness” of a feed is not necessarily related to perfectly clean bins of food, but whether the items are actually accepted as recyclable.

Looking only for a few moments, one could see non-recyclable items like fake flowers, half a lime, a dirty diaper and dirty paper towels scrolling by on a fast moving conveyor belt. A pile of non-recyclable plastic wraps like grocery bags and shrink wrap pushed into a diversion bin pointed at the trash can, and tiny pieces of shredded paper, which are too small for the system to process, were floating around on treadmills.

Pickens said a load of items that appeared to be leftovers from a home improvement project caused the line to stall earlier in the day as workers sorted through lumber and screws.

Pickens said he thinks most of the more egregious items come from households that use their recycling bins as a second trash can, but he stressed that clean recycling streams help everyone.

“This system was not designed to separate trash from recyclables,” Pickens said. “It was made to sort recycling.”

Pickens encouraged residents to follow what he sees as Mr. Murph’s mantra: “When in doubt, check it outand if you don’t want to check it, throw it away,” he said.

The City of Tulsa is encouraging residents to focus on four groups of items accepted in blue bins: aluminum and steel cans, paper and cardboard items, plastic bottles and jugs, and plastic jars and bottles. glass.

A comprehensive recycling guide is available via the Metropolitan Environmental Trust online at metercycle.com/directory. For a physical copy, call 918-584-0584 or email met@metrecycle.com.

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kelsy.schlotthauer@tulsaworld.com