NORTH CAROLINA’S GREEN MACHINE
By Don Elam, Plant Manager, North Carolina Correction Enterprises
The North Carolina Correction Enterprises’ (NCCE) Sign Reclaiming Plant, located in
Carthage, NC, is housed in a prison unit that was previously closed during facility realignment. Established in 1998 as a test plant for developing an efficient and profitable method to reclaim highway signs, it supports North Carolina’s statewide initiative for recycling and is NCCE’s “Green Machine.”
In 1998 the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and NCCE worked
together on a study to identify the most efficient process for reclaiming signs. The Sign Reclaiming plant previously used a sanding process which proved to have a negative impact on the environment. The sanding of the signs used a lot of consumables, was dirty and not profitable. It also did not do a good job of preparing the signs for reuse. As a result of the study, hydro-stripping was identified as the most feasible and efficient process for sign reclaiming.
The process begins with NCCE supplying large, scrap metal containers to NCDOT sign shops. Once these containers are filled with signs no longer in use, NCCE drivers collect and transport the signs back to the Sign Reclaiming Plant in Carthage. The signs are then processed through the Hydrostripper machine, which uses approximately 38,000 pounds of water pressure angled in such a way to remove all sheeting and adhesive from the signs while leaving the protective chromate conversion coating intact. The raw aluminum is then ready to have the new sheeting applied … creating a brand new sign.
The Hydrostripper machine uses recycled grey water for the reclaiming process, significantly reducing the consumption of city water to less than 200 gallons per day. The sheeting and adhesive material that is removed from the signs have no negative environmental impact and can be sent to the local landfill. It is safe to say that a sign without damage to the aluminum could be recycled indefinitely, and some current signs are known to have been in circulation since the early 1980’s.
The Sign Reclaiming Plant reprocessed and recycled over 445,000 pounds of aluminum
road signs last year. In addition to reclaiming highway signs, the Sign Reclaiming Plant also recycles obsolete license tags received from the Department of Motor Vehicles. These tags are fed through a shredder and then sold through state surplus to metal recyclers. Last year NCCE generated over 333,408 pounds of recycled aluminum from this process.
Plant Manager Don Elam and Supervisor David Smith manage a team of 15 minimum custody inmates who work in the Sign Reclaiming Plant and are transported daily from the Sanford Correctional Center.
It is so impressive that representatives from other states have visited the operation. The growth potential for this service appears unlimited.