Working to eliminate more landfill waste

This URT recycling machine, the only one of its kind operational in the U.S., is located at ARCA AP in the River Wards, and can recycle one refrigerator per minute. COURTESY OF ARCA AP

The River Wards are known for their historic industrial areas. But few people know that today, in a little-known corner of the community off the Delaware River, one of the perhaps most advanced recycling technologies on the continent is in use.

Near Frankford Creek on the border of Port Richmond and Bridesburg is a company with a URT recycling system — the only one of its kind in North America. It’s an extremely efficient refrigerator-recycling device.

The URT recycles one refrigerator a minute. URT stands for UNTHA Recycling Technology. UNTHA is the name of the company that sells these devices, and was founded by Austrian inventor Anton Unterwurzacher. In Europe, use of URT is much more common due to stricter environmental standards. But in North America, where standards are looser, only ARCA AP has one.

According to Brian Conners, president and chief operating officer of Appliance Recycling Centers of America Advanced Processing (ARCA AP), other methods of refrigerator recycling don’t even come close to what the 40-foot-tall URT can do.

“Every material that we recycle, and that ultimately is repurposed, finding its way into something new again, is material that didn’t have to be mined from the earth or manufactured from raw materials,” Conners said. “It’s a tremendous energy and resource saver.”

Standard refrigerator recycling involves separating and recycling just the scrap metal, and sending everything else to a landfill, Conners said. That can include glass, plastic, and large quantities of insulating foam.

But at ARCA AP, thanks to the URT, even those products are recycled. The URT helps make the tough-to-recycle foam into pellets that can be used as fuel as well as to help make concrete. Up to 95 percent of the foam in a refrigerator can be recycled, far reducing the waste left over from other methods of refrigerator recycling.

The ultimate goal is that zero waste from appliances ever goes into landfills, Conners said.

Since its inception in 2009, ARCA AP has recycled 500,000 appliances a year. The facility is located near the Delaware River off of Headley Street and North Delaware Avenue. The busy plant is packed with appliances that are run through the URT or recycled using other technologies.

“An estimated 50 million appliances are recycled in the U.S. ever year, so it never ends,” Conners said.

The top recycled items at ARCA AP are the same as the top-selling appliances in the country — fridges, washers, driers, and ranges for gas stoves, but they also accept air conditioners and microwaves, devices that can release harmful products into the environment if not recycled properly.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know that their appliances could be recycled more efficiently, Conners said. According to General Electric, 90 percent of refrigerators in the U.S. are shredded for their metal with the rest of the waste diverted to a landfill.

Some companies will buy back used, inefficient refrigerators that emit more greenhouse gases from customers in the U.S., and then re-sell them in developing countries, so they just continue to pollute in a new location, Conners said.

Right now, ARCA AP’s clients include General Electric, the city of Philadelphia, nearby municipalities, and any group that holds an e-cycling event. Another client is the country of Bermuda, which sends its appliances to Philadelphia to be recycled.

But ARCA AP also accepts drop-offs from the public, for free, as a courtesy service, if you can transport your air conditioner or refrigerator by yourself to their plant on 4301 Delaware Ave.

In fact, they are currently encouraging more recycling from the public, through community-organized electronics recycling days.

ARCA Inc., ARCA AP’s Minnesota-based partner, recently launched gorecyclenow.com, a website designed to connect members of the public and community groups that want to organize recycling days with ARCA AP and other similar facilities around the country. ••

To learn about how your community can hold an appliance recycling day with free pick-up by ARCA AP, visit www.gorecyclenow.com.

For more information about ARCA AP, visit www.arcaap.com.

Contact Reporter Sam Newhouse at 215–354–3124 or snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.