In a typical transfer station or material recovery facility (MRF), skid-steers and wheel loaders commonly are used to rummage through incoming material to retrieve recyclables or big items that could cause problems for processing systems and to load material onto processing systems or into trucks. Recently, some transfer stations and MRFs are taking a different approach to these tasks by using material handlers.

“Loading the system with a material handler was one of the best things we ever did,” Riel Johnson, general manager of Athens Services’ Sun Valley MRF in Sun Valley, California, says. “The material handler sips fuel, doesn’t wear out the tires and does a phenomenal job preprocessing the waste for the system’s infeeds.”

Necessary experience

Athens Services uses material handlers at two of its MRFs—City of Industry, California, and Sun Valley. At the City of Industry MRF, two Builtrite 2100 electric material handlers sort through waste, while one Caterpillar (Cat) diesel-powered M322D does the job in Sun Valley.

The Sun Valley MRF, which separates recyclables from mixed waste, processes 1,500 tons per day from single family, multifamily and commercial waste streams in Southern California. Its custom processing system from Bulk Handling Systems (BHS), Eugene, Oregon, is housed in a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design- (LEED-) certified facility with a solar-powered collection system.

The City of Industry MRF can process up to 5,000 tons of mixed materials per day and houses a dedicated food waste line to process and remove contaminants from organic material before it is delivered to the company’s composting facility, American Organics, in Victorville, California.

The Builtrites at the City of Industry MRF were installed when the MRF first opened 20 years ago because the trailer tunnel is too deep for the loaders to distribute waste evenly within transfer trucks, Johnson says.

Ten years ago, Athens Services rebuilt and replaced the handlers and is in the process of assessing whether the units need to be replaced or rebuilt again.

At the City of Industry MRF, material handlers are used to level loads of material as the transfer trucks are top loaded in the trailer tunnel, Johnson says. A loader pushes the material into the top of the trailer until the load reaches the desired weight as shown by the digital axle scale readouts. An operator then remotely runs the facility’s stationary grapple to evenly distribute the material in the trailer to get the maximum amount of allowable waste into each load while ensuring the axle weights meet California Department of Transportation specifications.

The Sun Valley MRF uses the Cat material handler to tamp material and to adjust the load weights of trucks in the trailer tunnel, as well as to feed material into the mixed waste processing system at “a very even pace,” Johnson says. “This makes for a smooth and level burden on the sorting conveyors, maximizing our potential recovery from the waste.”

When they are used for presorting and inspection, material handlers assist Athens Services in removing bulky material that could damage its processing equipment.

Johnson adds, “It also pulls out long, stringy items [that would cause downtime if processed], while the elevated cab allows operators to fluff and massage the material for a steady flow.”

At Athens Services, operators with more experience running material handlers tend to fare better when using the machines in this application, Johnson says.

“It takes a special operator to work these machines in tight spots and keep up with production,” he says. “The key is to get experienced hands to run these.”

Keeping design in mind

Recology SF in San Francisco also uses Builtrite material handlers, says Operations Manager Ken Stewart. Recology has three operating companies—two residential and commercial collection facilities and a transfer station with drop-off services for items that cannot be picked up at the curb, such as household hazardous waste, electronics, expired medications, cooking oil, paint and batteries.

At the transfer station, two Builtrite 2100s run 20 hours per day, adjusting weight on outbound loads to meet state specifications. Recology uses a Cat D8 dozer to load trailers from above.

Stewart says Recology has used material handlers for more than 25 years. The company used a different brand of handler in 1970, but went with Builtrite in 1984.

“In our situation, we designed these handlers for our specific application,” he says. “We took the time to look at specific pieces of equipment and technology.”

With their swivel and torrent-mount design and elevated cabs, the Builtrites provide more visibility and flexibility to decrease downtime, according to Stewart.

“I didn’t just take any piece of equipment and stick it in there,” he says. “Someone may try to use a unit in two different applications, and it may work better in one application than the other. These were specifically designed for us.”

Stewart brought in experienced material handler operators to lend a hand to those who aren’t as experienced using those machines in this application, but as in Johnson’s case, ease of operator training depends on the individual.

“Some get it, some don’t,” he says. “I’m not going to force someone to sit in that seat if they don’t want to.”

At Recology, training can last two weeks to one month, depending on how quickly an operator gets comfortable with the job.

Stewart says he’s speaking with Builtrite to purchase more material handlers for more projects. Other than a broken hose from time to time, the handlers wear well in Recology’s transfer station, he says.

“Builtrite makes a variety of different sizes that you can order specifically for your operation,” Stewart says.

Double duty

Ukian, California-based C&S Waste Solutions’ Lake County transfer station accepts municipal solid waste (MSW); wood and green waste; construction and demolition debris; appliances; tires; furniture; scrap metals; cardboard and paper; glass, metal and plastic containers; motor oil and filters; batteries; and home electronics. The MSW is delivered to the tipping floor, where it is sorted and recyclables are extracted. C&S also owns a scrap yard nearby. Both locations use material handlers.

Bruce McCracken, partner at C&S, uses two material handlers by Fuchs, a brand of Louisville, Kentucky-based Terex. A 320 D operates at the transfer station in Lake County, while a 350 D is used at the scrap yard.

“At the transfer station, we use the handlers to load garbage and recycling into the trucks,” he says. “When not loading, operators are using the handlers to move the material into separate piles.”

For C&S, constructing elevated floors or excavated tunnels at its transfer station was too costly, so the company went with a single-level design, which meant that C&S had to look for an alternative to using wheel loaders in its transfer station.

“It saved us a lot of money,” McCracken says of the company’s approach to transfer station construction.

An elevated cab provides a better view for the task at hand, which improves efficiency and safety when sorting and loading. “If someone is walking by them or if there’s a vehicle, they can see it,” he says.

McCracken says material handler operators at the transfer station are trained for two weeks.

“The operators came in from using wheel loaders and perhaps they were a little apprehensive at first, but they really grew to like them,” he says. “Material handlers are a versatile machine. You can use them in different applications, and the operators really like them. That’s important to us.”

The author is assistant editor for the Recycling Today Media Group and can be emailed at A version of this article originally ran in the January/February edition of Waste Today, a sister publication to Recycling Today.