‘Green before green was cool’

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By Cindy DiFazio

Staff writer/photographer

“We were green before green was cool,” Safety-Kleen Systems’ Smithfield Recycle Center plant manager Dave Hanson said.

Safety-Kleen moved its largest hazardous waste recycling plant to Smithfield in 1987 after purchasing the McKesson Envirosystems Company complex in late 1981. Safety-Kleen operates 200 branch operations and processing facilities in 48 states and Canada.

“You hear hazardous waste and think of mutant ninja turtles,” he said. “It’s amazing how many people don’t know what we do.”

Hanson said hazardous waste is just a fancy term for dangerous garbage. “We take used material and blend it into a useable fuel,” he said. “We prevent it from going into a landfill.”

Some examples Hanson cited are perfume that has reached the end of its shelf life, paint and paint thinner, solvents, gas and diesel fuel. They also accept scrap metal and absorbent materials used in clean-ups.

“Last year we processed nine million pounds of scrap metal,” he said, “for $1 million in revenue.”

Hanson said occasionally they get some surprising deliveries. “We got a load of Victoria’s Secret lingerie and shredded it up,” he said. Safety-Kleen also has received drumloads of liquor bottles, shampoos and even cigars.

The 104-acre facility is Henry County’s fifth largest employer with a workforce of 102 and an annual payroll of $4 million. They operate two 12-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week except for holiday and vacation shutdowns.

For now,  about 6,000 drums are being processed every week. “In the mid ‘90s we were at 3,500 and we’ve been as busy as 7,000,” he said. “So, we’ve been busier and we’ve been slower.”

Hanson said no layoffs are planned, but the plant is not hiring. “With the economy and price of oil, we are under a hiring freeze,” he said. “I don’t want anyone to take early retirements because if they retire I can’t replace them.”

Hanson said their future is somewhat tied to the auto industry. “If the auto industry goes down, that would affect the company,” he said, “but everybody generates hazardous wastes.”

Clients range from huge manufacturers like Dow-Corning and retail giants Wal-Mart and Home Depot to local manufacturers and auto shops. “Our niche is we deal with ‘mom and pops’ stores and clear up to Dupont,” he said. “Our advantage is that other companies don’t have the ability to get the one-drum customer.”

Future expansion is not out of the question. “We have a ten year expansion permit built in,” Hanson said.

Henry County residents also can rest assured that Safety-Kleen is secure on all levels.

Precautions begin before a truck even arrives. “Trucks have to be on our schedule to get in our gate,” he said.

Shipments are then staged in the tanker loading/unloading facility. A sample of each shipment’s material, whether bulk or in a container, is taken and sent to the on-site laboratory for analysis.

“If it is what it says it is it gets approved,” he said. “It’s about an hour and a half process.” Hanson said the schedule allows them to receive a truckload every two hours. If a truck has not arrived within its two-hour time window, it must reschedule.

Once approved, the material processing procedure begins.

The shredder system processes about 30 drums per hour of primarily solid materials and the Automatic Drum Decant System unit processes liquid or light sludge materials.

Full containers are shredded in a totally enclosed system purged with nitrogen. Hanson said the two-story shredder chops, grinds and blends the materials to ship to cement kilns in Indiana and Missouri. There they are blended with coal and flash heated to 3500 degrees to make a powder. “When you buy a bag of cement, that’s what it is,” he said.

The ADDS unit processes liquid materials, and can reduce a drum in one minute, 10 seconds.

Four cameras watch the process. A stationary knife cuts the drum open spilling the contents into the cylinder to be blended. The drum is smashed into a “puck.”

ADDS operator, Kevin Henry, has been on the job 23 years. He said the system can process 40 drums an hour. “As long as it’s running smooth it’s a cool job,” Henry said.

He said if a drum gets caught hanging on a blade or puck gets hung up, the cylinder has to be shut down and cleaned out. “It’s a half-day job to clean out,” he said, “and we have to decontaminate it real good before we send anyone in.”

Hanson said Safety-Kleen prides itself on its stellar employee safety reputation, noting the plant went ten years accident-free before a slip-and-fall ended the streak, and now have 600,000 hours without an accident. “We have the best safety record in the company,” he said.

Hanson said operations also are heavily regulated by the state’s environmental protection agency. “They visit every two weeks and stay four to five hours every time,” he said. “The EPA checks every label on every drum.”

Hanson said there are no underground tanks and nothing can soak into the ground because of a protective coating. There are lightning rods on all structures and the plant has its own fire fighting apparatus. “We have a 3,000 gallon tank and can use water and foam,” he said. There are seven accesses to the system around the property.

Hanson said Safety-Kleen is proud of what it does and glad to be part of the community. “We are active in the community in the Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce,” he said, “and donate to local fire departments.”


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