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New commercial baler finds home at Sunflower Recycling

Jon Prescott, left, Sunflower Diversified Services CEO, and Shawn Bates, director of production and recycling, stand by the new commercial baler used in Sunflower Recycling’s operation.

When a business makes a checklist of the reasons to buy a new piece of equipment, the factors that come into play include cost savings, efficiency and its capabilities today and in the future.

“This new baler at our recycling operation checks all these boxes,” said Shawn Bates, director of production and recycling at Sunflower Diversified Services. “It will save money, get the job done faster and help us accommodate even more recyclers in the years to come.”

Sunflower, a non-profit agency, serves children and adults with developmental disabilities and delays in central Kansas.

The new equipment mainly processes cardboard, mixed paper and newspaper, which accounts for 71 percent of the materials at the processing plant, 8823 4th.

“We kept the old baler, which will pick up the other 29 percent,” Bates said. “Even though it is getting some rest, the old baler still handles plastics, magazines and shredded paper.

“Because the new machine is so much faster, it increases our efficiency and allows Sunflower to increase our customer base,” he added. “The amount of overflow will decrease, giving us more space to work.”

However, the most rewarding part of this project is it creates jobs for people with special needs, Bates emphasized.

“Sunflower prides itself on offering as many employment opportunities as possible,” he said. “Clients and their families appreciate our philosophy of independence, which leads to more productivity and regular paychecks.

“Clients and staff are very excited about the new job opportunities at our award-winning recycling operation.”

Currently, more than 40 clients work in the operation, which also includes confidential paper shredding.

The new baler, called the Cram-a-lot, is a refurbished model purchased from DeHart Recycling Equipment in Missouri.

It is capable of processing 2.5 bales of corrugated cardboard per hour, which is about 20 bales a day; this is eight more than the old machine could handle.

With both balers running, employees can keep up with the amount of materials taken to Sunflower Community Recycling’s drop-off site, 5605 10th. The recyclables are transported from there to the baling/processing plant near the Great Bend Airport.

Not only does the new equipment benefit Sunflower, it also helps the community as a whole.

“Sunflower’s recycling operation is absolutely crucial to Barton County’s solid waste plan,” Bates explained. “Recycling is the main source of waste diversion here. It will extend the life of our landfill, which saves residents and businesses tax dollars.”

For example, between 60 and 100 cars travel to the recycling drop-off site each day and more than 200 businesses participate in the Green Community effort. These recyclers are keeping materials out of the landfill.

The total cost for the baler was $59,763.56, which includes shipping, installation and electrical hook-up. The Kansas Department of Health & Environment paid 75 percent of this cost; a Barton County KDHE Solid Waste Grant picked up the rest.

“It is difficult to put into words how much we appreciate Barton County officials and their commitment to our recycling program,” Bates said. “It is absolutely amazing.”

He thanked everyone who sent letters of support for the grant; Megan Barfield, Great Bend Chamber of Commerce president; County Commissioner Barb Esfeld; and Will LaFever Sr., mill supply manager at Sonoco Recycling.

Jon Prescott, Sunflower chief executive officer, summed it up by noting “this project was the perfect partnership. And it came to fruition at a great time. The 20-year-old baler was wearing out and we were spending thousands to keep it running.

“We had concerns about a breakdown that would have stopped the recycling operation,” he continued. “Shawn Bates deserves a round of applause for applying for the grant and doing all the other background work, which took about a year.”

Prescott also noted Sunflower is building an ADA-qualified loading ramp so employees can safely fill the baler and it is adding a second emergency stop switch.

In addition, Sunflower: paid to have Mac-Clet Electrical wire the new baler; purchased the heavy wires used to secure these baled materials that are compressed into 72 x 42 x 28-inch cubes that weigh over 2,000 pounds each; and assumed the responsibility of providing labor, equipment maintenance and electricity.

Sunflower serves infants, toddlers and adults in Barton, Pawnee, Rice, Rush and Stafford counties. It is in its 56th year.

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