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While many recycling centers across the country are closing, including several in St. Francois and Madison counties, a man who has spent his entire career in the recycling business is expressing confidence it will bounce back in the near future.

Brent Batliner, Republic Service’s general manager for post-collection, was the guest speaker at the recent Farmington Regional Chamber of Commerce luncheon held at the Centene Center. He has worked in the industry for more than 30 years and runs two large plants in St. Louis that recycle greater than 17,000 tons of material per month.

“Republic Services serves over 14 million customers across 39 states and Puerto Rico,” he said. “We employ over 35,000 people in our company, 197 transfer stations, 105 recycling centers, 190 active landfills and a million tons of waste collected annually. So, we’re one of the big guys.

“In St. Louis we run over 100 compressed natural gas trucks — and growing. Compressed natural gas is interesting because when you run out you can’t just pull in and fill up, so we have our own filling stations that we run out of our facility.

"We can only go so far in those trucks and they’ve got to come back every day so they can refuel. They’re quieter. They’re cleaner. They hardly ever have to have their oil changed. We’ve been running them now for over three years and they’re great vehicles. Very low maintenance. We save a lot on diesel.”

According to Batliner, the two plants he manages are, for the most part, perform single stream recycling.

“Everything comes in as one product,” he said. “I say we’re a manufacturing plant, but we de-manufacture. So, the material comes in all together and then through a lot of automation, a lot of high-tech equipment, we take it back apart and sell it as a commodity back to the world.

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“So, what do we like to get? We like to get newspaper, brown paper, cardboard, booklets, office paper, aluminum cans, steel cans, plastic bottles, detergent bottles, water bottles — you name it. Any type of food beverage container. Our big mantra right now is ‘anything clean and dry.’ We want empty and as clean and dry as possible.

“One of the big things that is always discussed is the pizza box. Pizza boxes to me are extremely recyclable. I’ve probably sold a million tons of cardboard and I’ve never had any rejected because it’s a pizza box. It’s a good visual in that it doesn’t have too much contamination. If it’s a nasty, greasy pizza box with half a slice of pizza in it, may cause me trouble. But a pizza box that has about same amount of grease on my hand — there is so much good fiber in that box — we want it.”

According to Batliner, he doesn’t want anything that a large high-speed recycling plant can’t handle.

“Styrofoam is one of the few plastics that can absorb the product that it has in it,” he said. “So, if you eat a salad out of a Styrofoam box and you use an oily dressing, that oil is going into the pores of that plastic. No other plastic does that. So, Styrofoam has a lot of issues. That’s the one that causes us grief.

"Anything smaller than a golf ball won’t fit through our screens, so things like plastic forks and other material like that we don’t like. Plastic bags are a nuisance for us. Obviously, any food products we don’t want. Anything that’s multi-layered, like a three-ring binder, a chip bag — we can’t handle at our facility.”

Batliner noted that sometimes the recycling commodities his company sells are worth more than it is at present.

“It will recover,” he said. “I’ve been in this business a long time. When the Gulf War shutdown shipping lanes we saw our market crash. In 2008, when the rest of you were hurting so was our business. We have an economy that’s a little different, but I know we’re going to work out of it. We always have.”

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Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-756-8927 or kjenkins@farmingtonpressonline.com

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