Waste Not: Breakthrough Technology converts trash sent to landfills into recyclable materials

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Submitted by Koch Industries

waste pieces

Koch Industries

In this article

  • A Georgia-Pacific team has developed a new waste erosion and recycling technology that reduces the amount of solid waste going to landfill or incinerators and converts multiple waste streams into valuable feedstocks.
  • The so-called Juno® technology has the ability to divert and recover paper, food, plastic and metal waste.
  • The first commercial-scale Juno plant has recycled about 50% to 60% of the collected waste — more than 33.6,000 tons — that was otherwise directed to three local landfills in Toledo, Oregon.
  • The paper fiber that Juno reclaims in Toledo (Juno® Fiber) is then sent to its Georgia-Pacific facility, where it is added to other recycled materials and processed into containerboard for corrugated boxes.
  • Georgia-Pacific is currently exploring Juno sites in the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom and expects to begin construction of a new site in 12 to 24 months.

GP staff

Twelve years ago, Wayne Winkler had an idea.

He wondered if he could “cook” garbage to reclaim material that would otherwise end up in landfills? To test his theory, Wayne sent a teammate to the fast-food restaurant around the corner from Georgia-Pacific’s research and development center in Neenah, Wisconsin, in search of paper-laden trash. Little did Wayne know at the time that this would be the first step towards a transformative new waste diversion technology, although he had high hopes.

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“They gave us very, very strange looks when we asked about their trash,” laughs Wayne, now senior technical advisor for Juno® Technology, which is owned by Georgia-Pacific and part of the Koch companies.

Back at the Georgia-Pacific R&D center, Wayne and a colleague tossed their newly acquired garbage bags straight into a prototype autoclave—a giant, cylindrical pressure cooker. The unsorted trash was sanitized and pressure-steam cooked in hopes it could remove the moisture-resistant coatings from the restaurant’s food wrappers and reclaim usable paper fiber.

GP staff

“We felt strongly that this could be a way to improve the supply of recovered paper and address the issue of waste going to landfill,” Wayne recalls.

When the team opened up their prototype autoclave after processing the first batch of trash, they found their hypothesis was correct — it worked.

“There was a huge sense of accomplishment when it worked,” says Wayne. The team sought to further develop this unique technology to process tons of raw waste and recover usable paper fiber. Not only would this provide Georgia-Pacific with more fiber to make recycled paper products, but it would also allow customers to see how their products are being recycled.

Landfill is an environmental challenge facing many communities around the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, about half of the municipal waste generated annually in the United States, more than 146 million tons, now ends up in landfill.

This makes what is now known as Juno technology – and the Juno™ Clave – a game changer. Georgia-Pacific’s new waste disposal and recycling technology does not use waste already present in traditional recycling streams. Instead, the process reduces the amount of solid waste destined for landfill or incineration and converts multiple waste streams into valuable feedstocks.

Juno building

“We thought, why not recycle metals too?” says Christer Henriksson, President of Juno. “Why not go for the plastics that are really hard to recycle? Why not turn the food that ends up in the landfill into biogas?”

The team continues to build on Juno’s skills. It can harvest recycled paper fiber for new paper goods, biogas for energy, and reusable plastics and metals.

After a successful pilot in Savannah, Georgia, where the team brought in garbage from a variety of sources, including the Atlanta airport, Juno was ready for a bigger challenge. Georgia-Pacific, also owned by Koch, built the first commercial-scale Juno plant in Toledo, Oregon to validate the large-scale recycling and resource reclamation program. Although the Toledo plant, which opened in May 2021, only recovers paper fibers and metals, plans call for future plants to recover plastics and produce biogas from food waste.

The Toledo plant initially planned to process commercial waste from locations such as stadiums, restaurants and airports. This junk is a “safe” feedstock for recycling, meaning there’s little risk of finding old garden hoses or leftover items from home projects that can damage and shut down machinery. But then the global pandemic struck and no waste was generated in public places, office buildings and the like.

“We had planned to process the municipal waste in a year or two,” says Trent Moberg, Juno’s vice president of technology. “Due to the pandemic and the fact that more and more people are working from home and not going to office buildings or sporting events, there has been very little commercial waste but an increase in household waste. Therefore, we quickly adjusted our capacities to adapt to the needs of the community. “

Initially, the Juno team was skeptical about being prepared for the vagaries of MSW – and there were certainly some setbacks. The composition of commercial waste is relatively predictable, but what you find in municipal waste is far from predictable.

“All it takes is for someone to throw out some string lights for the Christmas tree, which then find every rag and sheet that someone else threw away,” says Trent. “That would make a huge ball that we couldn’t handle.”

For the first few months, as the Juno team worked to solve the Christmas lights dilemma and other problems posed by household waste streams, they met each challenge with ingenuity, an entrepreneurial mindset and teamwork. They did it, proving that Juno can effectively manage both commercial and residential waste streams – and make a real impact in the communities where it operates.

In the year since it started operations, Juno’s Toledo facility has processed about 50% to 60% of the collected waste – more than 33.6,000 tons – that otherwise went to three local landfills. Juno sends the recovered paper fiber, Juno® Fiber, to its Georgia-Pacific mill next door, where it is blended with other recycled material to make containerboard for corrugated boxes.

New, larger plants will process plastics, including high-density polyethylene and polypropylene packaging. Food waste, the largest single material to landfill, is converted into biogas through Juno’s anaerobic digestion process. Biogas can potentially be used to fuel plants or be sold back to the electric utility for use on the electricity grid. Georgia-Pacific is currently exploring sites in the US, Australia and the UK and expects to begin construction on a new site in 12 to 24 months.

With that promise, it’s no surprise that Juno garnered international attention even before it went live. Franz Cosenza, Juno Plant Manager in Toledo, has been taking calls about Juno Technology from current and potential customers and cities around the world since 2019.

“They had all heard of Juno and were very interested in when they could start using it or get their hands on the paper fiber,” he says. “Many of them want to make 100% of their products from Juno™ fiber.”

Juno received a third-party certification for Fiber Chain of Custody, meaning there is a verified tracking process on the material that confirms it meets the requirements of the certification, and now Juno™ Fiber Certified products can come from the box factory offered by Georgia-Pacific at Olympia. In the future, consumer products will be labeled as being made from Juno-recycled material from landfills and incinerators.

For now, however, the team is getting daily inspiration that Wayne’s idea of ​​”cooking” trash has morphed into a technology that could have such an impact on the world.

“I’ve always looked for ways to make environmentally responsible products,” says Wayne. “But you can’t do things like Juno if you don’t have leadership willing to support ideas and continue to fund research and development, even if they don’t know if it’s going anywhere.” We are fortunate to work for a company that is interested in advancing ideas that benefit the environment.”

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Koch Industries

Koch Industries

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From the basics of life to the technological breakthroughs of tomorrow, it’s our job to create and innovate a wide range of products and services that make life better – and do it responsibly and using fewer resources. Below are 16 ways we’re doing just that.

Responsibility is our top priority.

For us, added value goes far beyond economic performance. It means doing the right thing. In the right way. Always. For our customers. For our employees. For our communities. For our environment.

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Every day we work to create more value while using fewer resources than the day before. We do this by managing our resources to benefit our customers, employees, partners, community members and society with a philosophy of mutual benefit. With more than 300 manufacturing facilities in the United States, we are one of America’s largest manufacturers. To stay in business over the long term, we must constantly improve and innovate – both in the products we make and the way we make them.

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We believe the role of business in society is to create products and services that people want and need, but to do so responsibly. That means finding ways to use fewer resources, work safely, protect the environment and always act ethically.

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