Construction Equipment Global
Photographs by Dan Bigelow


Beauty is a beast

In this article: Customer success Wheel loaders Sustainability

A Volvo CE wheel loader never tires of feeding a cutting-edge recycling system with an insatiable appetite.

From first glance, New Yorkers can see that their sleek new recycling plant marks a radical shift from the landfills that used to swallow the city’s throw-away plastic, metal and glass.

Award-winning architects, known for blue-printing art galleries and cultural sites, designed the plant as a partner project of New York City and Sims Municipal Recycling, which is owned by Sims Metal Management, the world’s largest recycler of metals and electronics.

A closer look shows that the plant fulfills an overarching environmental consciousness, with recycled steel construction, solar-power production, and self-contained storm-water management. The riverfront location allows for barge access, lifting the burden of a quarter-million truck miles (more than 400,000km) off city streets, reducing fuel use, traffic jams, diesel fumes and noise while contributing to air quality, peace and quiet.

Thomas Outerbridge, General Manager, Sims Municipal Recycling


Thomas Outerbridge is General Manager of Sims Municipal Recycling. “You might find some equally impressive recycling facilities in European countries, where they’ve been at this for a couple of decades longer than we have,” says Outerbridge. “For New York, it’s a quantum leap forward in size, scale and quality.”

This beauty is also a voracious beast. It can take in some 20,000 tonnes of metal, glass and plastic each month, making it the largest sorting operation of its kind in the United States.

It took ten years and a combined investment of $110 million (€80 million) to bring the facility to life. Volvo CE got involved early on.

“We have a really good relationship with Sims that began almost seven years ago, when they were looking for uniformity of machines across their more than 130 operating yards in North America,” says Pat Reilly, Director of National Accounts for Volvo CE. “They brought us in as they started to develop the New York facility. We actually helped them decide that they could use a machine one size smaller than what they had planned. That saves fuel and operating expenses.”

Volvo CE’s Pat Reilly visits Sims Municipal Recycling in New York


Sims and the city are betting that the beautiful new plant will inspire New Yorkers to kick-start the recycling cycle, which begins in every family kitchen. “This will hopefully help to get the public excited about recycling,” Outerbridge says. “The success of the whole recycling venture hinges on public participation.”

Outerbridge estimates current compliance at 50%, but all New York City residents are required by law to separate household trash, and put empty metal, plastic and glass containers into one bag or bucket, curbside.

After trucks and barges deliver the mixed waste materials to what is called “the tipping floor”, Volvo’s L150G wheel loader rolls up and digs in.

“Recyclables come 24 hours a day, six or seven days a week,” says Outerbridge. “The wheel loader piles material up, or ‘highstacks’ it, and maintains the piles so we have workable space for trucks and other equipment to move around.”

The wheel loader shovels glass, metal and plastic into the sorting system, at the rate of up to 70 tonnes an hour. Outerbridge continues: “The wheel loader needs to constantly feed our processing system. That’s what drives the whole through-put of the system.” The enormous, elaborate guts of the working system are so compelling that Sims invites schoolchildren to come and watch from specially built observation platforms.


Machines detect and sort materials by size, shape, magnetic properties and other qualities, using vibration, gravity, magnets and light reflectors. According to Outerbridge, “All of that equipment is designed to take the material that the wheel loader is pushing into the system and convert it into a dozen different commodities that are now saleable.”

Sorting is alchemy, spinning garbage into gold. Recycled aluminum cans, for instance, emerge tied up in tidy bales weighing 680kg (1500lbs). They can be sold for about $1000 (€730) a piece.

Volvo CE machinery contributes to Sims’ recycling mission while furthering more wide-ranging environmental goals. “The city has laws that require us, as contractors, to comply with very stringent air quality standards,” says Outerbridge. “The new Volvos make us compliant with these air quality requirements.”

“For Volvo, environmental consciousness is one of our three core values, along with quality and safety,” affirms Reilly. “Those three values are essential to every product we make and every value we keep, in terms of serving our customers.”

Outerbridge expects Volvo CE machines to help Sims move into the future. He says, “Over the next few months, we’ll get more and more of the city’s curbside paper, and the wheel loader is a critical piece of equipment to handle all of the additional tonnage.”

“We have told Sims we want to be their partner forever,” says Reilly. “They’re very proactive in doing things the right way, and in being a positive industrial contributor. We want to help support Sims with the right equipment, and the right support through our dealers, so that they can grow their business.”

Outerbridge says Sims plans to build on its New York success. “We think what we’ve accomplished here qualifies us to compete for municipal contracts elsewhere. And we will.”

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