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EMR: A zero-emissions recycling challenge

A zero-emissions recycling challenge

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  • What we know
  • What we’re doing
  • What it’s worth

What we know

EMR, a global metal and plastics recycling company, is using a new site to test best practice and technology to move closer towards zero-emissions recycling on a 26-acre site in the city of Becker, Minnesota.

To effectively recycle complex durable goods like vehicles, white goods and electronic equipment, this material first passes through a shredder. This large machine, as its name suggests, turns these products into fragments of their constituent materials.

For example, in the case of a vehicle this would be metals, plastics, rubber, glass, electrical components and upholstery. Approximately 85%of the materials in a vehicle that arrives at any EMR shredder will end up being recycled, including plastics and glass.

How products are designed can strongly affect the amount of materials that cannot be recycled. For example, all plastics could be recycled, but if they do not appear in sufficient quantities, recycling them does not make economic sense. Also, the textiles and foams used as upholstery are mostly synthetic and are difficult to recycle, most either need to either be disposed of or go for energy recovery. If these materials were derived from renewable sources their environmental impact would be significantly reduced.

The creation of recycled products has significant benefits – saving between 60% and 90% of the carbon emissions, reduced pollution and water use when compared to creating these materials from virgin sources.

The new recycling facility is located in Minnesota, the state of 10,000 lakes (or 11,842 to be exact) a rural economy famous for its natural landscapes.

What we’re doing

The Becker facility is designed to recycle up to 1 million tonnes per year of end-of-life vehicles, white goods and other metal waste streams. The challenge was to design a facility from scratch that could ultimately operate at this scale with zero carbon emissions and zero emissions to air, ground and water.

This site is adjacent to a power station and a main freight rail line. A rail spur was installed that can efficiently accommodate an entire unit train of 80 rail cars to manage both inbound and outbound material with a minimal carbon footprint. The site was designed to minimise overall material handling, and the shredder runs on 100 percent renewable energy.

It is already established best practice for recycling sites to operate on 100% impervious surfaces to contain any pollution that may result from rainwater falling on these end-of-life materials. This avoids the potential for any ground pollution. However, this site also retains and recycles all water on-site using a water retention pond and water cleaning system.

One of the most important developments of this installation is that all of the processing equipment is fully enclosed in buildings. All air emissions from these buildings are captured and treated through advanced air pollution control systems to remove any dust or potential contaminants to the air.

The journey to zero emissions is not complete. There are still mobile material handlers on-site and materials still move by heavy goods vehicles, but the site is a positive step-change for the industry.

illustration of three birds in navy

What it’s worth

The Becker site is the result of a $75m investment and is seen as a benchmark achievement by US environmental agencies.

For Minnesota, meanwhile, the site is providing skilled, green jobs in the metal recycling industry while safeguarding the state’s natural resources, biodiversity and clean water. 


EMR’s mission at Becker is to take valuable metals out of the waste stream and turn them into the sustainable materials of the future. By investing in the latest technology and innovating our processes, our new facility is able to do this important work in a way that protects both the environment and the communities where we operate

Joseph Balzano CEO at EMR USA