Pellitteri Waste Systems’ Material Recovery Facility (MRF) on Kipp Street processes 15 tons of recyclables each hour, adding up to nearly 60,000 tons of material that is kept out of landfills each year.
Pellitteri Waste Systems, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this month, began providing recycling services for the village of Brooklyn and served 440 homes in 2000. Pellitteri now services about 50,000 homes, organizations and businesses in the Madison area.
When materials first arrive at the MRF, non-recyclable items are pulled off the conveyer belt by employees. Pellitteri has about 100 employees with 16 working each shift to transport and sort materials.
Tom Bolhuis, account executive for Pellitteri Waste Systems, said some of the most common non-recyclable items MRF receives are dirty diapers and garden hoses. Items like these, as well as clothing and rope, can contaminate raw materials and prevent the raw material from being reused.
Raw materials can only be sold with 10 percent contamination.
Bolhuis said the lack of smell at the facility itself is proof that area residents, organizations and business are doing a good job of cleaning materials before recycling. However, contamination rates are on the rise.
“When we first opened, we were getting about 3.5 percent contamination,” Bolhuis said. “We are now getting 18 percent.”
The automated system can sort recycled materials, but the facility needs help from consumers to prevent contamination. Contaminated items cannot be recycled and go to a landfill.
Bolhuis advises residents to close the lids on bins to prevent rain from getting in, and to empty out any water in the bin. When the bin gets dumped into the truck, the water can soak into other paper and cardboard materials. Loose tin lids need can be mistaken for 2-D objects by the automated system, resulting in contamination. Pellitteri advises residents to put the lid in the can and pinch the top shut. Pellitteri Waste Systems has a series of videos on its social media platforms to inform people about what materials can be recycled and how to recycle them properly.
Pellitteri Waste Systems use artificial intelligence and robotic arms to sort recycled materials. Directed puffs of air move materials to the right section and beams of light are targeted at plastic to identify which number it is.
There is a market for Nos. 1 and 2, and Pellitteri Waste Systems holds onto products Nos. 3-7 until there is a buyer.
The Madison East Side Business Alliance offered a tour of the MRF on Friday to 18 members. The tour was sponsored by Wisconsin Printing Inc.
Reena Bolnick from Office Furniture Resources, a company hoping to have a storefront in the Madison area that refurbishes used furniture, was surprised at how much goes into the recycling process.
“It was exciting to see the facility and all the technology that is there,” she said.
Pellitteri Waste Systems sends paper products to paper plants in Wisconsin and Indiana, and metal products go to local companies to be reused. Aluminum cans and plastic flakes are sold as raw material. Glass is sorted by color to be melted down.
“I think we’ll always see recycling as important,” Bolhuis said.
He said waste could further be reduced if people composted and prepared their own food.
“The one invention that has contributed more waste than anything is the microwave,” he said.
Packages microwavable food is sold in is often not recycled, and take-out containers are often made of Styrofoam.
While Styrofoam cannot be put in the recycling bin, the Monona Public Library has a volunteer-driven TerraCycle program for Styrofoam and consumer items such as toothpaste tubes, toothbrushes and potato chip bags.
“Monona Library is a drop-off site for TerraCycle items and Styrofoam as a community give-back,” said Sally Buffat, business coordinator for the Monona Public Library. “These are just two of many examples of how the city of Monona is committed to 100 percent clean energy and resilience.”