Photo courtesy of Harris

Many factors go into selecting the right baler for a material recovery facility (MRF). Depending on the material stream and current volumes being processed at the MRF, as well as the operation’s objectives, one baler style might be better suited to the job than another. Recyclers can achieve higher throughput with a horizontal, single-ram baler, for example, while a two-ram machine can bale the wide variety of material, such as mixed paper, plastics and metals, that enters the MRF.

Cordele, Georgia-based Harris manufactures a complete array of baler styles, from vertical and horizontal units to single-ram balers, including open-end and closed-end autotie machines, to two-ram balers. Different types of balers can provide different solutions for small and large recycling operations.

In the interview that follows, Jeff Ham, director of sales at Harris, and Forrest Wildes, the company’s director of strategic accounts, discuss the different types of balers that are available to recyclers as well as the factors that go into selecting the right baler for a recycling operation.

Recycling Today (RT): Can you describe the basic baler styles that are available and the strengths and weaknesses of each style?

Jeff Ham (JH): Single-ram and two-ram balers are both commonly used in MRF applications. For the most part, the high grades [of paper] are baled by a single-ram baler, and then the [other] recyclables are baled in the two-ram baler.

Forrest Wildes (FW): The single-ram baler is used a lot in MRFs on the fiber line for old corrugated containers (OCC), mixed paper and different high grades of paper. The advantage of the single-ram extrusion baler is you’re baling in a straight line. The advantage would be it’s a continuous operation, and the bales are all made automatically. With an autotie [single ram], you can achieve higher throughput on certain grades of fiber.

The disadvantage is the size of the feed hopper is small, and you get larger commercial grades of OCC ... so you have to stop and clear the bridge.

One of the other cons on the single-ram is they all have the same number of ties. If you’re baling some of the material on the container line, such as plastic bottles, you need more than five wires. Five wires [are] just not enough to hold the bale together, so that’s when the two-ram baler is the better machine for the job.

The two-ram [is] a multipurpose baler with a large hopper opening. Typically, we do have two-ram balers on the fiber side as well as on the container line, where the advantage is you’re able to achieve a high-density bale because your wire strength is higher, and you can place any number of straps on the two-ram, so you can make a heavy, uniform bale of the plastics you’re baling in a MRF.

RT: What applications are closed-door horizontal balers used in? Is there ever a time when a vertical baler might make sense for a recycling operation?

JH: That MRF application would be a very small MRF because with the closed-door baler, you’re basically building the bale manually. You can feed the chamber by conveyor or automation, but when your bale is made, you have a person come and tie off that bale.

FW: Sometimes if the MRF has the luxury of space, it may use a closed-door horizontal baler as a stand-alone machine for film only or for just one commodity.

Vertical balers are mostly used in distribution warehouses ... where they’re breaking down boxes. They’re used for recycling a lot, but it would be a small-volume place, like a mom-and-pop operation or in a grocery store. They’re not typically used in a larger MRF.

RT: What are the primary factors that go into selecting a baler type for an operation?

JH: Usually, it depends on the material stream, how many tons per hour the MRF wants to run, how many shifts and bale weights. It comes down to what the MRF or recycler wants to achieve and how many hours a day it wants to run.

We select the machine or size the machine based on current volumes but also on a future increase if [the customer] gets additional contracts that might bring more material into the facility. We don’t want a baler to be undersized, so it’s really getting a good understanding from the customer on what it wants to achieve and what it wants built-in for additional processing capacity. For example, on two-ram balers on a container line, we offer balers with a lid option. If the customer is going to be running a lot of containers or plastics, that can double capacity on plastics while using the same horsepower.

One unique thing Harris does is we’re able to match the customer’s needs with the right mix of baler. We work with the customer to produce a baling matrix based on the efficiency of the operation. That way we can give the operator several alternatives to look at on different balers we offer that can fit the application.

RT: What are signs recyclers should look for that indicate it may be time to consider a different baler style?

FW: If the MRF’s waste stream changes, then the MRF may have a need for a different baling machine. If, suddenly, the plastic percentage jumps up, the MRF will want to consider a two-ram baler. On the other hand, if it has a reduction in plastic and an increase in fiber, it’ll want to consider a single-ram baler.

“By far, the two-ram is the most adaptive and multipurpose baler that can take on any type of commodity that you want to bale in a recycling operation.” – Jeff Ham, director of sales, Harris

RT: Which baler types offer the most versatility in terms of materials handled?

JH: By far, the two-ram is the most adaptive and multipurpose baler that can take on any type of commodity that you want to bale in a recycling operation.

RT: How do maintenance needs vary by baler type?

JH: Maintenance is key whether it’s an open-end, autotie single-ram baler or two-ram. The maintenance is gauged off how much material that machine is running and how dirty the material is.

FW: It’s important the maintenance crew is keeping the knives adjusted, keeping the oil clean and doing routine oil samples. Harris keeps a historic record on hydraulic oil samples for customers, so that way we can spot trends.

RT: How does the operator’s skill factor into baler selection?

JH: A long time ago, it was the experience of your operator that determined how well your baler was going to run. I really don’t think that’s the case anymore. Now, most of the machines in a MRF operation can be set up to run automatically. Our balers are easy to train operators on to change the material selection modes.

Our displays on our balers are also bilingual. We found that to be very helpful with the operators here in North America, but still the operator needs to be educated and trained properly. If moisture changes in the material stream, for example, they need to be able to adjust the machine to keep bale weights on target. I think it’s easier to train an operator on today’s baler than what it used to be.

Jeff Ham is the director of sales at Harris, and Forrest Wildes is the company’s director of strategic accounts. More information is available at