Monday, July 7, 2008

Sorting out the city's construction waste


In a cavernous building on Quarantina Street reminiscent of bygone train stations, workers have their hands full of trash.
Light strains in from ample windows lining each side of the building and the open eastern end, illuminating massive piles of rubble, cardboard, scrap metal, yard trimmings and mixed waste.
Mist drifts down from the rafters to soothe rising dust as the walls hum with the constant roar of machinery — a massive sorter, an electric mulch grinder and countless trucks and equipment.

“It’s a state-of-the-art facility,” says Mario Borgatello, owner of MarBorg Industries. “There are very few like it in the state of California.”
Known as the construction and demolition recycling facility, the two-acre building handles an average of 650 tons of material every day — about 250,000 tons a year — and keeps 80 percent of that waste out of Tajiguas Landfill.
That figure is helping the city of Santa Barbara boost its total trash diversion figure, which currently hovers around 68 percent.
Before the facility started churning out sorted recyclables after opening in 2005, Mayor Marty Blum admits city leaders paid little attention to the amount of waste from development and demolition projects.
“We just kind of assumed it was going into the landfill and there was plenty of room out there,” she says. “As soon as we started becoming aware that the landfill was running out of space, we started asking a lot of questions.”
MarBorg’s facility, she says, has been a godsend, helping the city meet its state-mandated requirement of diverting at least 50 percent of its waste.
“We couldn’t have made it without Mario, without that facility,” Mayor Blum says, adding that Borgatello is doing solid public service, even if he’s making a buck or two in the process.
The company began recycling in 1936 but didn’t begin sifting out recyclables from construction waste until the mid-90s, when Borgatello’s son cordoned off a corner of the shop yard and began sorting.
It’s been a gradual process, says Derek Carlson, the company’s business manager. As one of a handful of firms starting up a construction and demolition, or C & D, recycling service, MarBorg had to invent a lot of the machinery being used today.
“There’s been a lot of hit and miss with it — getting the right equipment to get the most recovery,” Carlson says.
Many of the large-scale conveyors and heavy-duty machines are actually mining equipment that has been converted for a different, but equally dirty process.
Leading the way across the damp floor, Safety Manager Cesar Medina points out a heap of old drywall and a twisted mound of old water heaters, bicycles, fencing and scrap metal.
“We recycle everything we can,” he says.
The strangest item he’s ever seen? A stuffed moose head.
“A big ol’ sucker,” Medina says.
The facility even accepts e-waste, a new category of trash that includes old televisions, computers, stereos, cell phones and other obsolete electronic miscellany.
“That’s actually growing right now,” Medina says. “We get a lot of that stuff.”
Beyond the sheetrock and metal stacks, workers are sifting through a layer of yard waste with a massive frontloader. Almost hidden against the back wall is what Borgatello refers to as his “environmentally friendly” grinder.
Its 12,000-horsepower electric engine pulls energy from solar panels on a neighboring MarBorg building and is much quieter than its diesel-powered predecessor, Medina says.
Lifting a heavy rubber flap, he exposes a chain conveyor belt leading to a wickedly barbed roller with grinding blades that can churn out garden-variety mulch or rougher wood chips.
“This is the biggest you can get right here,” he says.
Residents can come by the yard, located at 136 N. Quarantina St., to pick up free mulch, while commercial operations have to pay for the privilege. The scent of freshly ground greenery dominates that section of the complex.
Along the southern wall, sunlight pours across a sorting conveyor belt high above the damp floor, where workers pick through streams of waste and pull out items to drop down chutes to either side.
“When we send out our product, it’s got to be completely legit,” Medina says.
Buyers don’t want to pick up a load of paper and find a chunk of metal or wood, he adds.
Frontloaders roar into the holding areas below and lift out heaping scoops of sorted aluminum, rock, wood, paper and plastic to load into trucks.
Most of the metal ends up heading to Los Angeles Harbor, where it is sold off and typically winds up on a boat heading to China, Medina says. Rubble, dirt and plastic tend to stay local, perhaps going as far as Ventura or Los Angeles.
With a maximum processing amount of 1,250 tons a day, the facility is only about halfway to capacity, Carlson says, leaving plenty of room for growth or to handle any large spikes in material due to a major demolition or natural disaster.
Goleta Councilmember Jean Blois, who joined Borgatello and a news crew for a quick peek inside the recycling facility, watches as a loader dumps a new pile of trash for sorting.
“The only difference between men and boys is the size of their toys,” she says.

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