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The Northwest Recycling Center opened in June after the University converted it from a pelletizing operation, realizing several efficiencies in the process. The Recycling Center accepts plastics, aluminum, mixed paper, cardboard and glass. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

The Northwest Recycling Center opened in June after the University converted it from a pelletizing operation, realizing several efficiencies in the process. The Recycling Center accepts plastics, aluminum, mixed paper, cardboard and glass. (Northwest Missouri State University photo)

Jan. 5, 2021

Transformation of Pellet Plant to Recycling Center enhancing sustainability efforts, saving costs

By Leah Newell, communication assistant


A Northwest Missouri State University decision this year to restructure the way it collects recyclable materials is helping the University educate local residents about its recycling efforts while gaining efficiencies within its sustainability operations.

Northwest closed its waste-to-energy paper pelletizing operation in the spring when the University transitioned its courses to an online format and local shelter-in-place orders went into effect as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. When the campus reopened to the public in June, the pelletizing operation had been replaced with a full-service Recycling Center.

“We wanted to create a customer experience that is more than just the community dropping off items into a bin,” Dan Haslag, Northwest’s assistant vice president of Facility Services, said. “As an educational institution, it is a great opportunity to better inform and educate the community regarding recycling.”

By revamping what had been Northwest’s Pellet Plant into a more functional Recycling Center, Facility Services staff members cleared the pellet warehouse – delivering more than 60 tons of pellets to the University boiler plant in the process – and removed a loading dock.

The open warehouse bay now allows community members to drive inside the facility, which has been outfitted with LED lighting and directional signs. The University also moved away from providing a 24/7 recycling drop-off site and established business hours when staff can be at the Recycling Center to assist and educate patrons about the process and value of recyclable materials. The recycling team collects and processes paper, cardboard, plastics, aluminum, steel and glass, in addition to conducting all waste hauling duties for the campus.

Haslag says Northwest’s recycling team took the uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic and turned it into an opportunity to better serve the University and surrounding communities. The Northwest Recycling Center provides one of the few such operations in the region.

“It is a cleaner and safer environment for the employees,” Haslag said. “It’s transforming into a workplace where the employees can have an enhanced level of pride. We’re realizing a higher quality of recycled materials as well as landfill diversion as result of the changes.”

Since 2016, Northwest’s recycling revenue has offset landfill costs with annual collection averages amounting to 1.6 million pounds of cardboard, 300,000 pounds of paper, 208,500 pounds of organics, 115,000 pounds of plastic and 4,500 pounds of aluminum. Northwest’s diversion rate of recycled materials away from local landfills has reached a level of 46 percent.

Last year, Northwest’s landfill diversion ranked the University No. 2 in Missouri and No. 60 nationally in the annual Campus Race to Zero Waste competition. This year, it improved to No. 1 in the state and No. 57 nationally.

The recycling operation started as a byproduct of the University’s biomass boiler plant in the early 1990s to reduce landfill waste by collecting and processing paper as a viable fuel source. Northwest began turning recycled paper into pellets that could be used as an alternative fuel source in its boilers. At the time, along with Northwest’s use of wood chips, it was one of the most innovative and cost-efficient methods for alternative fuel.

Times have changed, though, and Northwest determined the paper pellets – compounded by aging equipment – were no longer an efficiency for the University.

After closing the pelletizing operation last spring, Northwest’s collection of baled cardboard increased revenue during the last two quarters of fiscal year 2020 to nearly $20,000. By the end of the fiscal year, the recycling team had created a $25,000 recycling surplus that can be directed to new equipment, matching waste management grants and infrastructure.

“The burning of the wood chips is still the most economical source of heating on campus followed by natural gas,” Haslag said, adding that Northwest remains interested in innovative technology for its energy needs. “One of our department goals is to further enhance the presence of sustainability on campus, as sustainable practices are in the DNA of our institution.”

For more information about Northwest's recycling operations, including the types of materials it accepts, visit www.nwmissouri.edu/services/sustainability/recycle.htm.


Media contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | mhorn@nwmissouri.edu | 660.562.1704