The Trackers Tour the Patriot Recycling Plant in Prescott Valley

March 08, 2024


By David Mascone

The shovel picker loading trash into the rotating drum at the Patriot Recycling Plant in Prescott Valley.

On a crisp winter morning, an inquisitive group of Sedona Westerners met at the VOC gathering site for a Trackers event, but one with a twist: an industrial tour - specifically at the Patriot Disposal waste processing and recycling center in Prescott Valley. The center recycles refuse using Patriot’s patented Smart Stream Technology which allows customers to put their recyclable items in with other trash and Patriot sorts them out. The group was eager to explore how they accomplished that. We loaded into our cars and headed off down I-17. We stuck to our mission, passing by signs for General Crook trail, Montezuma Castle, and Forte Verde State Park. No stopping. We were headed for that industrial tour.

Upon our arrival at Patriot, employees wearing orange vests were waiting to direct us to the proper parking area. We gathered outside for the first order of business: safety gear. Each of us were given a safety hat, glasses, and bright orange safety vest to wear while on the tour.

Jay Eby, the manager at Patriot, greeted us and gave us background and history. He pointed to a vintage-looking trash truck, painted red, white, and blue, parked at the back of the lot. Jay explained the 1984 truck was the first in his operation, when as a one-person company he picked up trash cans and dumped their contents manually into the back of his truck. 

He then pointed to a large white rectangular tank. That wasn’t an object from history, but rather serves as a key part of Patriot’s much larger current operation. That assembly housed natural gas and related equipment for fueling the trucks.

Next, Mike, the recycled material administrator, briefed us on the intricacies of successfully selling recyclable items. The market for those materials varies dynamically, with demand and prices changing weekly, even daily. On top of that, Patriot collects not just what could be considered traditional recyclable items – glass, metal, plastic, paper, cardboard – but culls out special items like appliances and electrical components. Mike keeps the pulse of where and at what price all these various traditional and non-traditional items can be used or sold.

He then explained that quality counts, especially since recycled materials are bundled into large bales. So too much greasy cardboard (stained pizza boxes for example) or too many water-laden bottles must be culled out to avoid a whole bale being contaminated. 

The question-and-answer session was called to an end (our inquisitive group could likely have continued on asking questions) and we began our actual tour of the facility. We first passed the truck refueling station, a long line of specialized hoses and nozzles to deliver natural gas to the trucks. Jay explained that the use of natural gas fuel exemplified a larger goal of Patriot, not just to recycle and reuse, but to run an environmentally and safety focused operation. Natural gas engines reduce all manner of particulate, chemical, odorous, and climate-impacting emissions.

Next, we literally walked over the weigh station, visible as a large metal plate in the ground. Jay explained he uses the weight of the incoming trash to calculate the efficiency of his recycle and reuse effort. After recyclable material has been removed, Patriot weighs the outgoing trash sent to landfills. Patriot can then determine by the difference what their operation has prevented from entering landfills. Jay highlighted that at optimum operation his facility can reduce the amount sent to landfill by 28%.

A few more steps took us to the actual trash and recycle processing area. We were reminded that Patriot serves a rural and small-town area, and though the area covered is large, the volume of trash does not compare to that of large urban areas like Phoenix. The Patriot operation thus combines both mechanical and manual steps to hit a sweet spot of efficiency.

That operation begins with the trash trucks emptying their contents into a rather inglorious pile. Why not a more orderly approach? A simple pile of trash allows Patriot’s large shovel picker to readily load trash into a bag shredder then up a conveyor to a larger rotating drum. That drum separates and aerates the trash, and holes in the drum allow organic matter, stones, and the like to fall out, easing the effort at the next step, recovery separation.

That separation of recyclable and reusable material takes place along a long, elevated caged platform. A conveyor belt carrying the output of the rotating drum runs down the center of the platform. A catwalk on each side allows Patriot’s separation workers to scan and extract plastic, paper, cardboard, glass and metal materials, as well as reusable and salvageable items like motors, appliances, and the like. On our visit, four separator technicians worked the line, each swiftly pulling of items and dropping them through openings into bins below. Mike monitors the bins, getting them sent for baling, then storing and selling them to achieve maximum efficiency and revenue.

A question arose as to why Patriot doesn’t ask customers to pre-sort recyclable material into separate trash bins. Jay answered with two words: dual trucks. Pre-sorting means each customer has two bins, and Patriot would need to send two different trucks, rather than just one. Two trucks cost more to operate, and two trucks emit more climate-impacting gases. Further, customer pre-sorted recycling isn’t perfect, so the resulting pre-sorted materials still need separation to remove contaminants. 

The output of the sorting conveyor dumps into another inglorious pile. Here, the simple pile makes it easy for a large, clawed bulldozer to push the pile into long bins for transport to landfill. Of note, consistent with safety, the operators of both the shovel picker and clawed bulldozer stopped while our group was in the area. The size of those machines means the operators cannot see 360 degrees around, and our group did not have the training on how to avoid getting hit. So the operators stopped consistent with Patriot’s safety focus.

Tour complete, we thanked Jay and Mike, returned our safety gear, and headed out, questions answered, and insights gained.

The Trackers group of the Sedona Westerners plan educational events and hikes like this one throughout the season. We have two more Trackers events coming up focusing on editable plants and botanicals and they are included with a Westerners membership. To learn more about the Trackers and the Sedona Westerners Hiking Club, visit our website at www.sedonawesterners.org. With more than 50 hikes left in the hiking season the membership fee of $30 is still a sound investment. Become a member of the Westerners today and join us for more fun events and hikes now through May 9, 2024.

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