Madison residents are recycling more kinds of stuff than ever. And it’s never been easier due to Pellitteri Waste Systems’ new single-stream recycling plant on the city’s Southeast Side, the only operation of its kind and scale in the area.
The 55,000-square-foot facility accepts traditional recyclables like glass, plastic bottles, newspapers, cardboard and cans, and since Pellitteri won the city’s contract in 2012, residents have been able to recycle more types of plastic, including plastic bags, yogurt and dairy cups, and metal, including pots and pans, plumbing, and small appliances like toasters and power tools.
In two minutes, Pellitteri’s employees and a maze of equipment can separate a mixed stream of recyclables for compacting, baling and marketing to buyers from Fitchburg to China.
The facility at 4002 Kipp St. processes 130 to 150 tons of material a day from Madison, 12 other Dane County municipalities, commercial contracts and others.
The city contract enabled Pellitteri to dramatically expand its previous recycling capacity and increase staff from 52 to 75.
“It’s been a great opportunity for us,” said David Pellitteri, company vice president for finance. “It’s a game changer.”
The facility became fully operational in April 2012, and the Pellitteri family is hosting an invitation-only grand opening and ribbon-cutting featuring Mayor Paul Soglin and others on May 11.
For two decades, the city contracted with Waste Management Systems of Houston, which trucked Madison’s recyclables to a facility in Germantown for sorting.
But the city switched to Pellitteri in 2012, a move that has let the city recycle more items at less cost while creating local jobs. The city required single-stream recycling in its contract, which is worth about $1.5 million annually.
“It’s nice to have a contract let to a local family business like this,” Soglin said. “We look forward to a great relationship and the environmental benefits for the city.”
The current operation is a dramatic evolution from when brothers Tony and Phil Pellitteri started with a borrowed truck to deliver coal and haul away garbage for merchants on Capitol Square 65 years ago. In 1979, Tom Pellitteri and his wife, Michelle, founded Pellitteri Waste Systems. The company is now run by a third generation of family members.
The city’s overall recycling dipped slightly due to industry trends like less advertising in newspapers and magazines, lighter plastic bottles, and a local budget for advertising that fell from $160,000 to $25,000 in the last six years, city recycling coordinator George Dreckmann said.
But Pellitteri and its facility are working out well, Dreckmann said, noting the city cut the volume of previously unrecyclable plastics, scrap metal and other materials once headed to the landfill by 500 tons in 2012.
“They’re doing an excellent job,” he said.
Trucks deliver loads of mixed recyclables to the facility, where they’re dumped onto a pile.
Front-end loaders put the material on a metering bin where it is shaped to a stream of recyclables about 2 feet deep and 5 feet wide, the start of the two-minute gauntlet through hand sorters and machines.
First, employees pick out hoses, rope, extension cords, clothes, diapers and other materials that aren’t recyclable and can gum up equipment.
Once, someone tried recycling a car, in pieces, David Pellitteri said. “There was a door, a hood, a transmission, four tires,” he said. “Everything.”
Other no-nos are partly full drink or food containers and loose plastic bags or shredded paper; the latter two items should be put in a clear, plastic bag smaller than a basketball and tied shut.
“Education is the key,” said Tim Pellitteri, vice president for operations.
Spinning wheels separate cardboard and newspaper. Paper is hand-sorted. Wheels break and filter out glass. A magnet grabs steel and tin cans, and an electromagnetic field pushes aluminum cans from the stream. An optical sorter separates grades of plastic. A final hand sort sends recyclables back through the system and non-recyclables to the landfill.
It all happens in 90 to 120 seconds and captures virtually all recyclables in the stream. Pellitteri must pay to dispose of the 6 to 8 percent of non-recyclable trash it receives.
The stream informs about local culture — more beer bottles and newspaper than other places, suggesting a literate community that likes its brew, David Pellitteri said.
The separated recyclables are sent to bins and later compressed into bales weighing up to 2,200 pounds for transport to market locally and across the globe. No. 1 plastics, like water bottles, are sent to Placon’s Ecostar facility in Fitchburg, which recycles it into many products like deli containers.