Balers 101

If you’re new to the world of recycling equipment, choosing the right baler can be daunting. Detailed specifications for balers are available online, but understanding how they apply to your situation can be a challenge. Here’s some information to help you get started.

What are balers and how do they work?

A baler is a machine that compresses waste material into a bundle or bale that can be easily handled, stored and transported. Balers use hydraulic cylinders (rams) to press a heavy duty plate (platen) onto the material to be baled inside the baler chamber. Vertical balers are the smallest and least expensive balers available. They are “vertical” because the ram and platen move vertically down into the chamber to form the bale. Horizontal balers are “horizontal” because the platen moves horizontally into the bale chamber. They are larger than vertical balers and take up more floor space. There are three main types of horizontal balers:

  • closed-door
  • open-end auto-tie
  • two-ram

In “closed-door” horizontal balers, the bale is formed against a closed door at the far end of the chamber. Closed-door balers require that bales be tied manually. Once a full bale has been made and tied, the door can be opened and the bale removed.

In open-end auto-tie balers, each bale is made by the ram pushing against the end of the previous bale instead of against a closed door. This allows for a more continuous process. Open-end balers have an automatic tie system, which places baling wire around the finished bale.

“Two-ram” balers are typically the largest, fully automated, most powerful and fastest balers. In a two-ram baler, the first cylinder compresses material against a steel wall, and the second cylinder ejects finished bales through the auto-tie system.

Choosing the right baler

Here are some things to consider when choosing a baler.

1. What type of material are you baling?

There are balers available for all kinds of material including paper, corrugated cardboard, all types of plastics, non-ferrous metal (metal that doesn’t contain iron) and textiles. Some balers can handle multiple types of material.

The baler specifications will generally tell you the diameter of the hydraulic cylinder (ram) in inches. The larger the diameter, the more force the baler can exert. For example, if you’re baling cardboard, a baler with a six-inch cylinder might be sufficient. Plastics and metals require more force, so you’ll most likely need a baler with a larger cylinder and more force.

An important consideration is the size of the material that will be fed into the baler’s hopper (sometimes referred to as the “feed opening”). If the hopper is too small, material may jam or “bridge” (requiring operator intervention).

2. What quantity of material are you baling?

If you’re processing smaller amounts, a vertical baler may meet your needs. Vertical balers typically handle up to 4,000 pounds a day. If you’re producing more than that, you’ll need to look at horizontal balers.

Another important specification is the horsepower of the motor that powers the hydraulic pump. This has an impact on how fast the baler can “cycle” (i.e., perform one complete stroke and return to the starting position).

3. What size and weight do you want the bales to be?

This may depend on how the baled material will be stored and transported. You also need to consider the equipment you’ll be using to move and store the bales to await pickup. Conveyors, hoppers and sorters are often a necessary part of the process.

The specifications for different types of balers will include the size and weight of bales they produce. The bale weight will depend on the type of material and how densely it can be compressed. Baler specifications often use the weight of baled cardboard as a benchmark. A “mill-sized” bale for cardboard measures approximately 60 inches high by 30 inches wide by 48 inches deep and weighs about 1,000 pounds.

4. How much space do you have available in your facility?

Check the overall dimensions of the baler so you can determine whether you have room in your facility, including any material handling and storage needs. Don’t forget that your door must be large enough for the baler to fit through and that your floor must be able to support its weight!

There are a growing number of baler models available. Balers made by different manufacturers can look almost identical on paper, but in fact may have significant differences. One might focus on reducing maintenance by using superior materials for the parts that wear, another might have innovative ways to increase bale density. A third might have special mechanisms for handling oversized material. It’s important to seek out a recycling equipment expert who can help you evaluate your requirements, make sense of the options available and recommend the solution that best meets your needs, now and in the future.

Pete Mulvany is the CEO of Recycling Equipment Canada in Waterloo, Ontario. Contact Pete at