How producers are giving scrap belts a second life

By |  February 9, 2024
The EZA Recycling Solutions model of recycling conveyor belts involves utilizing third-party trucking to haul rolls out of aggregate operations. Photo: EZA Recycling Solutions

The EZA Recycling Solutions model of recycling conveyor belts involves utilizing third-party trucking to haul rolls out of aggregate operations. Photo: EZA Recycling Solutions

Every aggregate operation uses conveyor belts. And every belt has only so much life in it.

Historically, once a belt is deemed done, it’ll find its way to a scrap pile somewhere on the site. Eventually, a collection of belts might be landfilled. But until that time arrives, belts live on as waste – and as eyesores – at active operations.

“It’s always been you take the old belt off, you put the new one on and the old belt goes in the backyard,” says Greg Failes of Indiana-based US Aggregates. “That accumulates, and then you have a bunch of conveyor belt taking up room and making a mess on your property.”

In recent years, though, some producers are productively offloading their scrap belts differently: They’re recycling them.

“With the world going in a green direction, we want to recycle all of the different products that we use,” Failes says. “We want to be responsible with how we dispose of belts rather than send them to a landfill. That’s kind of the big driving force behind it.”

Building momentum

Producers like US Aggregates have long recycled scrap materials.

According to Failes, US Aggregates recycles scrap steel, batteries and tires along with used oils and coolants. Now, conveyor belts can be counted among the mix of materials utilized at US Aggregates that can avoid the landfill.

“Waste is still waste,” Failes says. “But if there’s an opportunity to recycle a product or a material, we try to do that.”

Like US Aggregates, Wisconsin-based Michels Road & Stone aims to find second life for bulk scrap that has potential for reuse or recycling.

“Conveyor belting is a big one for pits and quarries,” says Jon Zielieke, environmental manager at Michels Road & Stone. “We’re part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Plants program and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ Green Tier program. These programs help us develop our goals for landfill waste diversion and energy reduction.”

Over the years, Michels Road & Stone identified opportunities to put scrap belts to use as storm drain mats or as a buffer for tracked equipment needing to cross a road. The opportunities to make use of belts secondarily, however, are limited.

Interest in recycling conveyor belts has grown as producers became more aware it’s an option. Ezekiel Setne, owner and founder of EZA Recycling Solutions, says as much.

“I initially started my business back in 2010-2011,” says Setne, who estimates that up to 90 percent of his company’s recycling business derives from mining, aggregates and cement. “Back then, recycling was really an afterthought – especially the recycling of things like conveying belts. The mines and quarries had a system in place – or somewhat of a setup – for recycling metal. But conveyor belts, HDPE pipe and even tires were afterthoughts. Today, though, those things are front of mind.”

In EZA Recycling’s early years, Setne prioritized recycling a variety of materials. And while the company currently collects HDPE pipe and metals to recycle, he says EZA Recycling has evolved into an enterprise that almost exclusively recycles conveyor belts.

“When I first started in this landscape, there were only three or four other people in the United States actually taking belts for repurposing,” Setne says. “Those taking belts from mines would attempt to sell them to other operations.”

That wasn’t an ideal solution for repurposing belts, he argues.

“It led to this issue of cherry picking, where people would come in, take the few belts they liked and leave all the belts in really rough condition,” Setne says. “It didn’t solve the problem.”

Ultimately, Setne worked the problem one phone call at a time into a fruitful business of his own. Now, he says more producers are at least aware they can recycle old belts.

“Whenever we would cold call mines or quarries, we would get resistance because they thought we were trying to scam them or something,” Setne says. “Now it’s a synergistic kind of thing. They’re aware of how this transaction works. They know at best they’ll be able to make a profit off their scrap conveyor belts.”

Experiences

Worn-out conveyor belts can pile up at aggregate operations over the years. Photo: EZA Recycling Solutions

Worn-out conveyor belts can pile up at aggregate operations over the years. Photo: EZA Recycling Solutions

US Aggregates and Michels Road & Stone have experience working with EZA Recycling Solutions. Representatives from both companies say the offloading process was rather simple in their cases.

“Our belting wasn’t in a big wad or pile somewhere,” Failes says. “We rolled it up by hand in rolls. That was per request from Ezekiel – that it needed to be rolled up to ship. We sent him some pictures of it ahead of time. He found some trucking on his end, and once we had that lined up, we loaded it with a telehandler onto two semis. We had the truck driver assist in loading it.”

Michels Road & Stone, meanwhile, has recycled four semitrucks full of belting to date, according to Zielieke.

“You don’t want material building up in your facility, so you look for ways to sell it off,” Zielieke says.

Selling scrap, after all, is a better option than paying a tipping fee to a landfill.

“As far as how we pay, we generally try to get weights from the clients’ scales themselves,” Setne says. “We set up our shipping with a third party. They’ll pick up a wound roll, and we pay based on scale weight.”

All industries – aggregates included – are just scratching the surface of recycling’s potential, Setne adds.

“Only about 8 to 12 percent of all the recyclables in those green or blue recycling bins are being recycled,” he says. “It’s contamination because of a failure to educate the public and lack of markets for recycled material. The problem is it’s very difficult to solve those problems at the residential level without first tackling the industrial/commercial level.

“With industrial waste, we’re looking at a lot of sites that produce one type of waste,” he adds. “Anytime you have a lot of one type of waste in one location, that’s a best-case scenario.”

Related: Conveying the importance of keeping belts clean

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry. He can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

Comments are closed