Collaborative diversion

Features - Cover Story

Midwest Fiber Recycling and Data Management Services have combined forces to provide commercial customers with a range of landfill alternatives for discarded materials.

April 7, 2014
Kristin Smith

Midwest Fiber Recycling and Data Management Services (DMS) have a working relationship that goes back a few years, but it wasn’t until recently that the recycling company and engineered fuel producer realized the full potential of combining their areas of expertise.

Midwest Fiber operates commercial recycling facilities in Decatur, Springfield and Peoria, Ill. It also operates a single-stream material recovery facility (MRF) in Normal, Ill. The company, which was founded in 1990 with a single facility, has continued to grow and expand its recycling services. Midwest Fiber now operates a paper shredding division, collects food for compost and acquired an electronics recycling company in 2012.

Having the word recycling in its name opened up opportunities for Midwest Fiber Recycling to service central Illinois because companies would seek out Midwest Fiber to solve its waste problems.

Todd Shumaker, Midwest Fiber vice president of sales, explains, “As we continued to grow, we also continued to divert material from the landfill that I call ‘nontraditional recyclables.’”

One potential outlet for some of the nontraditional recyclables Shumaker refers to is in the alternative fuels market. It is an area where DMS had been excelling at in the region for quite some time.

Cementing a future

Founded in 1999 in Terre Haute, Ind., DMS was focused on providing recycling and waste services for its clients, many of whom did not want to landfill material due to their sustainability and zero-waste goals. DMS expanded its business to include alternative fuels after being approached by cement companies in 2008 about supplying them with secondary materials to burn in their kilns as a coal alternative.

Using alternatives to coal is beneficial to the cement industry, according to DMS Owner Mark Taylor. “It is a way for them to get reduced fuel costs, allows them to be more efficient and heat up kilns more cost effectively,” he says, adding, “It makes good business sense for them to do that.”

Taylor also saw the alternative fuels market as a way to further help his customers achieve their waste diversion goals. Taylor explains that the ash from a waste-to-energy (WTE) process still ends up in landfills while cement ash is a component of the finished product. It also provides another option for materials that cannot be recycled in a typical fashion.

“A lot of materials that cannot be recycled in the traditional manner can be used in an engineered fuels program,” says Taylor. “The materials that were going into a landfill before, we are now able to use in an engineered fuels program, so we are able to completely help the customers as far as eliminating the landfill.”

Taylor says he began working with Midwest Fiber in 2011 to recycle one or two material streams he could not use in the engineered fuel process. Midwest Fiber had more developed commercial recycling outlets for the material, he says.

“That’s really how I started working with Midwest Fiber,” says Taylor. “They are much more expanded in their services and were able to handle materials that I couldn’t.”

Similarly, when Midwest Fiber’s customers had materials that it didn’t have a market for, it turned to DMS’ engineered fuels program.

“The area Mark operated in was an area where we saw potential growth,” says Shumaker.

And while both companies competed for some materials, Shumaker says, “They were definitely our competitor, but through our relationship, we just realized there was an opportunity to work together and service the area.”

A natural fit

In December 2013, DMS sold its recycling assets to Midwest Fiber. The two companies both operate out of one facility in Terre Haute. A portion of the building is dedicated to recycling, while the other portion produces engineered fuel.

“It seemed like a natural fit,” says Taylor. “They understood the importance of taking care of the customer. We work together really well, and it just expanded from there.”

This also allowed Taylor to direct his efforts solely on engineered fuels. “That is where my focus has been, and I really wanted to try to hone in on those opportunities,” he says.

The arrangement also benefits customers by reducing the number of vendors they have to work with. “We look at us almost as one company, because we are going to make it very simple for them to handle this material,” explains Shumaker.

Fortune 500 companies will sometimes pay six or seven times what it costs to landfill materials just to keep it out of a landfill, according to Shumaker. “I hope by working with Mark, they will continue to achieve zero waste but do it in a more cost effective manner than they have in the past,” he says.

A hierarchy many corporations are following in their quest for zero waste, according to Taylor, is to first reuse as much as possible, then recycle, then find alternatives such as engineered fuel and lastly send what remains to a WTE facility.

“Every corporation you talk to wants to be landfill free,” Taylor says. “The only way to do that is to find alternatives like engineered fuel that allows them to keep material out of the landfill.”

Making fuel

The Terre Haute facility is divided into two portions, one is for recycling and the other is for the engineered fuel. Material that arrives at the Midwest Fiber/DMS facility is directed to the appropriate portion of the building. It arrives in various ways, including in Gaylord boxes, bales, compactors and roll-off containers. Midwest Fiber also provides DMS with residuals from its single-stream MRF to use in its fuel product, which helps the MRF increase its recovery rate.

Recyclable paper, cardboard and plastic is weighed, conveyed and baled in the recycling portion of the building for shipment to various domestic and overseas buyers of recycled material.

DMS receives its material, mostly consisting of mixed packaging of various plastics. It comes either from a direct customer or from one of Midwest Fiber’s customers. Rubber also is an accepted material. Both plastics and rubber have a high Btu value, according to Taylor.

To make the engineered fuel, the plastic and rubber are blended together in a pit with paper and wood before going through a primary shredder. Taylor says contamination with metals and food scrap can be an issue with inbound material, so DMS and Midwest Fiber educate customers about what materials are acceptable in the process.

The primary shredder sizes material down to 6 inches. It is then conveyed into a secondary shredder where it is mixed and sized down further before going into a third shredder that takes the material down to 2-inch-minus in size. From there the finished product can go directly into walking-floor trailers or is conveyed to the floor where it undergoes further conditioning before being loaded onto trucks.

The finished product is a loose shredded material that is blended and sized to the specific needs of the kiln. The fuel ranges from 10,000 to 11,000 Btus.

“Every kiln is a little bit different,” Taylor describes. “The kiln tells me ahead of time how many loads it needs and I know what their specification requirements are, so we batch loads for them.”

The Terre Haute facility can process about 36,000 tons of engineered fuel per year, and has capacity to recycle 36,000 tons annually.

Growth potential

Taylor says he would like to grow his business and open more locations. He says he wants to expand close to where cement plants are located and procure materials in nearby metropolitan areas. With Midwest Fiber as a partner, and the cement industry’s continued interest in alternative fuels, he thinks there are definite growth possibilities.

“For me, our goal is to continue to grow together,” says Taylor. “The opportunity to open more plants over the next five years looks to be strong, and having a partner like Midwest Fiber to grow with and go into those markets with me can be a great advantage.”

Shumaker agrees on the advantages. “We have a fair footprint throughout central Illinois and Indiana of commercial customers that we service, and we think there are definitely going to be some synergies moving forward between Midwest Fiber and Data Management to continue to find material that works well in Mark’s process,” he says.


The author is managing editor of Renewable Energy from Waste and can be contacted at