BALERS ARE THE LAST STOP for most recyclables moving through any processing center, whether the facility is the local grocery superstore or a 1,500-ton-per-day materials recovery facility (MRF). Making sure that final stop best serves the current and future needs of your recycling operation can be challenging. Nevertheless, evaluating several key factors will help you buy the right baler.

A baler can be a significant capital investment. When looking for new equipment, it is important to consider your facility's current production demands and the types of materials it handles, as well as anticipate its future growth and size the machine accordingly. The immediate and future needs of the recycled materials buyers should also factor into the baler purchasing decision. If a mill wants only bales of a certain weight and size, the baler you select has to be able to produce those dimensions, or you will lose that mill's business. Costs and operational convenience are other factors to weigh.

Balers 101

Generally speaking, there are three types of balers available. Vertical balers are designed for facilities that process a small quantity of materials for baling. The balers are usually found in retail stores where corrugated cardboard containers are baled. Vertical balers have a very low output of only one or two bales per hour, while the weight of the bale can be up to 2,000 pounds. The bales are compressed from the top downward and are tied manually.

Single-ram horizontal balers are typically used in low- to medium-production settings, such as small-volume recycling centers. The capacities of the balers range from 2 tons per hour to 30 tons per hour, with bale weights between 1,300 pounds and 2,500 pounds. Material is usually loaded into a hopper, where it drops into a compaction chamber. The hydraulic ram compresses the material into a slug that moves outward and compresses against previously compacted materials. Automatic wire tiers secure the material before the bale is discharged.

Dual-ram horizontal balers are similar to their single-ram counterparts, but provide greater compression. Material is compressed from two directions, creating much higher density bales. Maximizing bale density reduces the costs of sending materials to a mill or port by enabling more material to be placed in a shipping container. Thus, fewer containers are needed to transport the recyclables.

Dual-ram balers can generate bales weighing as much as 3,000 pounds and can produce up to 60 tons of bales per hour. They are used in high production MRFs and fiber recycling operations. While most balers can last between 10 and 15 years depending on their use and maintenance, a dual-ram baler has a typical life cycle of approximately five years before metal fatigue and component wear take their toll.

Processing Needs

Each month, Madina Paper Recycling, Madina, Ohio, processes more 7,500 tons of various paper fibers that are delivered by the company's own trucks and waste company roll-offs. To handle this workload, the firm operates two horizontal balers, one a single ram and the other a two-ram machine.

Operations in Madina's facility are fairly straightforward, says Ken Rupp, president of the firm. The balers are fed by either a 60- or 72-inch conveyor.

According to Rupp, the two balers and their conveyors run parallel to each other. To feed each baler, a worker on a lift truck unloads paper from a truck and carries it to a loader, which then places the material on the conveyor belts. Each baler processes about 18 tons of paper each hour.

“We'd like to run more,” Rupp says. “Both [are] capable of doing 30 [tons per hour], but [with] the way that we're constantly changing grades during the day, that's just about all we can give them.”

The ability to simply touch a computer screen to change the baler's settings to handle different materials is one of the features that Rupp likes about his machines. “If we have a truck of corrugated, we run it,” he says. “Then, if the next one is white ledger, we switch it over to white ledger. We use to have to manually do it, but now we just go back and hit the screen.”

Rupp adds that he has ordered a new double-ram baler to replace the facility's current double-ram machine. “The baler that we're getting will have about twice the compression of the existing one,” he says. “It's got a lot bigger cylinder and, hopefully, we're going to get a lot denser corrugated bales. We want to get our corrugated bales up to around 2,500 pounds to 2,600 pounds for export.”

For Valley Recycling in Chatsworth, Calif., company growth dictated obtaining a higher capacity baler that had a reputation for reliability and good construction. Paper accounts for about 70 percent of the materials processed at the company's facility, according to Sepand Samzadeh, president of the firm. The company bales computer paper, cardboard, white and color ledger paper, and shredded paper. The firm also bales aluminum cans and plastic bottles, but not the newspapers it processes. The company ships that material loose.

The company's previous baler generated about 800 tons of material per month. The facility's new horizontal, single-ram machine bales up to 2,000 tons per month.

Valley Recycling selected its new baler in part because it produces higher density bales, which reduce shipping costs and baling wire expenses. For instance, if a baler can produce a 2,500-pound bale with the same height, length and width dimensions as a 2,000-pound bale, then a company will save wiring costs over the long-term. Considering how much the price of steel has increased in recent months, reducing the money a company spends on wire can be very important, Rupp says. He estimates that the cost of the annealed 11-gauge wire that his firm uses has doubled since October 2004.

Samzadeh also has made sure that his company purchased a baler of sturdy build. “You want this stuff to be built like a tank,” he says. “It's not like you're in the aerospace industry where you're looking for the most lightweight [items]. You definitely want things to be built strongly, so you have to look at the hydraulics.”

Because Valley Recycling processes a variety of materials, the ability of the baler to handle different materials is critical to maximizing production. Like Medina Paper's baler, Valley Recycling's settings can be changed with the push of a button to handle different materials.

Service and Reputation

For both companies, service and value are important in selecting the right baler. Both Rupp and Samzadeh suggest talking to people in the industry to find out what their experiences have been with particular balers. “The key thing was talking to people who owned different balers,” Samzadeh says. “I found that the operators are key because they obviously deal with the machine and they know the moods it has, because these things act up. The salesperson will give you all the bells and whistles.”

Rupp says that he looked at balers that are manufactured overseas. “A lot of the comparisons that I had before I bought this last baler were balers made in Italy, Germany and England,” he says. “Supposedly they're better, but they're also double the cost. We took all that into consideration and stayed with an American-made baler.”

Buying the right baler requires a careful analysis of several factors, from the types of materials your facility processes to the purchase cost. However, undertaking the analysis before making a purchase can help ensure that your new baler effectively serves your facility now and for years to come.

Lynn Merrill is a contributing editor based in San Bernardino, Calif.