Manufacturing guy-at-large.

NYIO Session Two Notes: Sims Metal Management's Sunset Park facility

Added on by Spencer Wright.

Last week I visited Sims Metal Management's Sunset Park facility with the New York Infrastructure Observatory. The whole group posted notes in a public Google Doc, and we shared photos & videos on Dropbox - both of which I'd encourage you to check out. My overview is here.

Location: Sims Metal Management’s Sunset Park facility

472 2nd Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11232


  • Spencer Wright
  • Jason Spinell
  • Daniel Suo
  • Athena Diaconis
  • Jiayi Ying
  • Benny Zhu
  • Mark Breneman

Arrived at: 1400

Tour began at: ~1430

Tour completed at: ~1600

Tour guide was named Eadaoin Quinn

First: When we arrived at Sims, we immediately saw that they were installing a wind turbine in the front of the building. It will eventually generate about 100kW, which is in the neighborhood of 2% of the facility's energy usage.

This facility processes streetside recycling for the Bronx, Queens, Manhattan and Brooklyn (I believe Staten Island goes elsewhere). Brooklyn and Queens deliver directly by truck; the Bronx delivers by barge from a transfer station in Hunts Point; Manhattan will soon be delivering by barge from a station on the West Side. Sims does *not* handle commercial or construction waste. Our tour guide said that there are about 250 commercial carriers, each of which has their own sorting facilities and policies. At some point in the future, it's possible that Sims would contract to process their product as well, but it's not clear when.

It costs $65-70 per ton in "tipping fees" to process waste at Sims. For comparison, it costs the city $100+ per ton to put waste in a landfill. 

All told, recycling costs the city money. In the early 2000s, Mayor Bloomberg cancelled most of NYC's streetside recycling, saying that it just wasn't economically feasible. He later reversed his stance, but the cost-benefit analysis (at least in the short term) still isn't great.

Sims processes 600+ tons of product (i.e. recyclables: bottles, cans, paper, etc) per day. They have two daytime shifts, running from 0800 to 2400. They run maintenance daily from 000 to 800, plus another eight hour shift on the weekend.

They try not to shut down for maintenance during the workday, but it does happen. They *hate* plastic bags here (our tour guide had testified in favor of a plastic bag tax the day before we arrived). They're difficult to process, clog up the machines, and have essentially zero resale value. When unplanned maintenance does happen, it seems to usually be the result of plastic bags. Sims processes about 30 tons per day of bags alone.

Another surprise was the way they process glass. Because glass isn't sorted and handled carefully, it essentially lands at their door partially crushed. It's then crushed further (by their disc screens), and then allowed to filter through their process chain, ending up literally at the bottom of their machines. From there it's sent by barge to Sims' Jersey City facility, which expects everything to be roughly 3/8" in any dimension. There, it's scanned and sorted optically between clear and non-clear. Clear glass can be resold and recycled, but it's *really* difficult to sort brown from green - and the two cannot be recycled together. As a result, they're sold as underlayment for public works projects - roadbeds, foundations, etc. Oh - and Sims has some in a planter in the front of their building, too.

The facility's big bragging point, though, is its 16 Titech optical sorting machines. These track the frequency response as items run down conveyors and have infrared light shown at them; different plastics respond differently, and are sorted by pneumatic sprayers as a result. The whole process is totally automated and pretty cool:

Once all the different products are sorted, they're baled into blocks weighing between 800 and 1200 pounds. Sims has relationships with 3-5 customers for each product, and sells it to those customers depending on how their bids (which are updated monthly) compare to the national prices for the commodities they're selling. The contract that Sims has with the city requires a portion of the national price to be paid back to the city each month, so presumably Sims is incentivized to sell the product for more than those national prices.