High-Tech Recycling Plant in Sun Valley, Calif., an Economic Boost

The sprawling Athens Services material recovery plant is set to contribute $234,000 a year to a mitigation fund, as well as help the city achieve its goal of zero waste by 2025.

by Gregory J. Wilcox, McClatchy News Service / October 13, 2014

Conveyor lines at a $50 million high-tech waste separation facility in Sun Valley will hum to life this morning, giving an economic jolt to the Northeast San Fernando Valley.

The sprawling Athens Services material recovery plant is the first facility of its kind built in the city in years. Officials with the Los Angeles City Department of Transportation could not recall when the last major recycling facility came on line, and they say it will help take a big chunk out of the amount of waste dumped at local landfills.

La Puente-based Athens Services also believes the plant will help the city achieve its goal of zero waste by 2025.

“We believe it will be a significant contributor to reducing commercial and multifamily waste volumes from going to the landfill,” said company President Greg Loughnane.

Athens will also contribute $234,000 a year to a mitigation fund created in negotiations with city officials during the permitting process. The money will be used on San Fernando Valley projects in council districts 2, 6 and 7 and be controlled by an advisory committee, said Councilwoman Nury Martinez, who represents District 6 and lives in Sun Valley about a mile and a half from the plant.

This is the third such fund established in the area, she said. The money can be used for new parks and infrastructure.

“It’s been a long road and while there is more work to be done in this area, this project (and fund) helps redefine the status quo in Sun Valley,” she said.

The new plant will employ 110 workers whose pay will range from about $12 a hour to $20 per hour, Loughnane said.

The facility is an upgrade from the kinds of trash operations currently in operation.

“It’s unbelievable the kind of equipment they have installed. A lot of it is automated. The technology of how they sort waste is very different from when we were growing up,” Martinez said. “It is a lot cleaner way of sorting the waste.”

Athens’ 80,000-square-foot facility can separate 1,500 tons of waste a day. Athens’ complex is on 5 acres in the 11000 block of Pendleton Street, on a site that once housed American Waste Industries, and it will process waste from other haulers who will pay Athens a fee for the service. It will process trash from commercial businesses and large apartment and condominium complexes.

Sun Valley was an ideal location for the half-century-old company’s expansion, Loughnane said.

“It’s in an industrial zone and the city’s general plan (allows) these types of facilities, and we already had a history of operating these facilities,” Loughnane said.

This will be Athens’ third facility in the Valley. The company also has facilities in City of Industry, Pacoima, Harbor Gateway, Irwindale, Sylmar, Montebello, Victorville and throughout San Bernardino County. Final permitting is being completed for a 6,000-ton-per-day recycling facility in Irwindale.

Athens has more than 1,150 employees and operates a fleet of 300 trash collection vehicles.

The planning and permitting process for the new plant started in 2006. Construction started in 2013 and involved about 100 workers.

The new plant has a “green footprint” and meets environmental building specifications, Loughnane said. The building is fully enclosed and is powered by a 200-kilowatt rooftop solar system. The equipment is state-of-the-art, including advanced optical sorting and diversion technologies, allowing Athens to divert as much material as possible from area landfills. The building also has lighting and cooling efficiency measures, bicycle racks, lockers and electric vehicle charging stations.

About 150 trucks will drop off loads at the plant daily, but Athens has taken steps to reduce their tailpipe emissions.

“Any trucks using that facility will be powered by compressed natural gas, and (the plant) has the most technically advanced processing equipment available on the market today,” Loughnane said.

Kenn Phillips, senior vice president of the Sherman Oaks-based Valley Economic Alliance, said it is good news when an operation of this size comes into the Valley.

“Anytime you get more than 100 people who had been laid off jobs with great benefits, it’s a wonderful surge into the local economy,” Phillips said.

Athens’ plant is the largest of its kind built in Los Angeles in years, said Alex Helou, assistant general manager of the city’s Department of Sanitation.

And it is coming on line as the city is making a major overhaul in the way trash collection is handled.

Under the old system, firms simply had to get a permit and find clients, which put huge numbers of trucks on city streets, Helou said.

But in spring the City Council approved a plan that created 11 trash collection zones, saying it makes the process more efficient, reduces the number of trucks on the street and cuts the number of trash companies.

There are 55 trash companies operating in the city, each with “one to hundreds” of trucks, he said. Under the new plan there will be up to 11 trash haulers, but the city can bundle several zones under one operator.

The bidding process began in July and will close at the end of the month.

Athens plans to be one of the bidders, Loughnane said. The new zone system calls for all of the trucks to use pollution-reducing fuel.

The new plan takes effect in 2017. It will also help increase recycling efforts and reduce by 90 percent the amount of trash dumped in landfills by 2025.

To date, trash dumped in landfills has been reduced by 76 percent since 2000, Helou said.

Athens’ new plant will play a significant role in that landfill reduction effort because it will cull more recyclable material from the waste stream.

“All of the low-hanging fruit has been taken, so now we are going after the harder stuff,” he said.

©2014 the Daily News (Los Angeles)