If you are like me and millions of other people, this collection of containers probably looks familiar. For many years, our family sorted our recyclables into the appropriate types so they could be deposited in one of these containers. Then, we got curbside pickup. We still needed to sort first. Many communities now allow you to put all recyclables into the same container. It gets sorted at the central location.
Recently, I joined a group of others to tour the recycling center in a neighboring city and see how the sorting process is done. It is an intensive and highly engineered process that ends with six different products that are baled, sold, and shipped to end user companies. They use the raw materials for many consumer products of cardboard, paper, plastic, newsprint, and metal. Below are some photos and description.
I want to thank City Carton Co. for opening their doors for our tour. The two story building covered only two or three acres. It was amazing how much equipment and raw recycle material it contained. On the day of our tour, the machinery had been shut down for a bearing replacement. This allowed the group to get much closer to the equipment and there was little noise. In a sense this was fortunate. But, it would have been interesting to see how the system works when engaged.
A feature of WordPress I’ve wanted to try is the Image Gallery and Slideshow. Bear with me as I learn. You may click on any of the thumbnails below to see a full-sized version with caption. You may then navigate left or right through the set of images in the gallery. There is an X in the upper left to exit the slideshow.
Metal cans that are not aluminum get separated by a magnetic roller wheel into a bin and shipped to those recyclers. Some facilities are able to separate aluminum as well. Not this one.
The process of sorting starts when the loads of material are delivered up an inclined conveyer. The minor jostling spreads it out a little and allows the heaviest things to settle and the lightest to rise to the top. It gets dropped onto a conveyor belt that passes one person standing next to the line. This person pulls out manually all the plastic bags visible, as well as the unusual things that sometimes show up. Unusual things include dead animals, car keys, swords, phones, etc. You name it. They have probably found it.
The plastic bags are the bane of the recycling plant. They get caught in the mechanisms and need to be razor cut out of gears, belts, and pulleys. They actively campaign to eliminate them from the consumer stream. Some places have outlawed them.
The plant manager who served as our tour leader said that the amount of newsprint in the stream has decreased to about a third of what it was twenty years ago due to the availability of online sources of news. Newsprint is very dense. It make the output appear to have decreased over time because of the change. Actually, the amount of material in the recycle stream has increased according to him.
Here is a short video from Science Channel about the details of a single stream process.