It’s not often that a materials recovery facility (MRF) is highlighted in the New York Times for its architectural design. But the MRF in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, co-owned (with New York City) and operated by new NERC Advisory Member Sims Municipal Recycling (SMR), received just such an accolade when it opened in 2013. In addition to reducing recycling costs and creating jobs, Times writer Michael Kimmelman reports, the facility “is an ensemble of modernist boxes squeezing art, and even a little drama, from a relatively meager design budget.”
Sims’s MRF is the largest in the United States. Ninety-nine percent of the steel used in its construction is recycled, and it is built on a pier elevated by four feet with blended glass aggregate and stone.
The reason why Sims was willing to invest so much in a new, state-of-the-art MRF? It has a 20-year contract with New York City, with the opportunity for additional 10-year extensions. According to the company, it processes all of the metal, glass and plastic, and half the paper, collected by the NYC Department of Sanitation. SMR has “become a cornerstone of New York City’s recycling system, processing and marketing approximately 475,000 tons of plastic, glass, metal and paper that New Yorkers put into recycling bins each year,” the company states.
Sims is a critically important partner in New York’s ambitious plan to send zero waste to landfills by 2030. And in keeping with its commitment to its stakeholders, the Brooklyn MRF operates an Education Center that attracts more than 8,000 visitors a year. Activities range from “open house” events that draw hundreds of curious New Yorkers, to filming by the Sesame Street production team, to hosting United Nations sustainability experts from around the world, all intermixed with a constant flow of school groups.
Formed as a subsidiary in 2002 by Australia-based Sims Metal Management, SMR also operates facilities in Queens, the Bronx and Jersey City, and in 2013 entered the Chicago market. “With greater restrictions on plastic imports into China, SMR has recently expanded its business of processing mixed plastics produced by other MRFs into sorted, saleable resins,” the company states.
Responsible for 10-12,000 tons per month of glass coming from NYC and surrounding NJ municipalities, SMR has developed its own glass beneficiation facility. SMR’s Glass Plant produces furnace-ready clear, green and amber cullet, and converts glass that cannot be color-sorted into aggregate for local construction projects.
“The sheer volume of recyclables produced in NYC, and the quality issues inherent with recyclables collected in such a dense and diverse city provide us with some insights into the challenges facing the industry today,” general manager Tom Outerbridge said. “We decided to become a member of NERC at this time primarily due to the market shortfalls associated with mixed paper as a result of the Chinese National Sword. I think there is a real opportunity and value in regional solutions to some pressing problems, like mill capacity for mixed paper, glass market development, and recycled content legislation for plastics bags.”
In the 2018 Sustainability Report of parent Sims Metal Management, the company states, “… sustainability is, and will continue to be, a cornerstone of our corporate strategy. Not only is it a guiding principle for our Company, but it is also at the heart of our business model.” Proof of this can be found in stock indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, where Sims has been named for nine consecutive years. The company was one of the first to participate in the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) , and 2018 marked Sims’s 13th year participating in this leading carbon index. In 2018, Sims joined the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.