Monday, November 8, 2010

The DC Recycler and Recycling Pal Andrew visited the PG County recycling facility for a tour. The tour definitely exceeded all expectations. It was so interesting and so helpful for understanding the recycling process. We definitely recommend the tour.

Kourtney started us out with an explanation of all the different items that could be recycled. Some interesting things we learned:

1) You can recycle toilet paper rolls, (cellophane) plastic wrap, ziplock bags, foil, aluminum pie trays, gift boxes, tissue paper, etc.

2) You can remove the labels from tin cans and recycle them. Otherwise, the labels are burned.

3) Plastic lids are not generally recyclable, so try to find other kinds of lids, such as metal lids or aluminum foil.

4) Avoid clam shell plastic and styrofoam. Neither can be recycled. Try to find some alternative. At a salad bar, a plate would be better than using those covered containers.

5) If you have doubts about whether an item can be recycled, feel free to recycle it anyway. However, garden hoses should be recycled through Richie's Land Reclamation. Car batteries, needles, and other hazardous waste should go to hazardous waste recycling.

Mike then showed us the recycling machines. The process starts when the recycling trucks dump recycling in a big pile on the "tip floor," which is a covered building open to recycling trucks. A loader picks up the recycling and puts it in a metal box that leads to the conveyor belt that goes inside the center. 50-60 trucks drop off recycling at the center each day. They process 35 tons of recycling per hour; 500-600 tons per day. Interestingly, August and September bring the most recycling.

Now, the sorting process begins. About 95% of the sorting is done by machines. Some of the 55 center employees do sorting at the various conveyor belts during two work shifts. The employees immediately pull large items and plastic bags off the belts to keep them out of the gears and put them in recycling bins. The machines have a series of screens that allow certain items to float up over them (like cardboard or paper) and heavier items (like cans) to drop below. Cardboard wet from the rain can't make it through this process, so it has to be set aside to try and put through again. If your cardboard gets wet, let it dry and then recycle it. At each stage, there are 1-3 employees pulling various items off the belts, such as plastic bags or items that missed the screen. They even use optical scanners to identify plastic bottles and blow bursts of air at them to send them into the correct screen.

The sorted items are then put into balers that create bales of each sorted item: cardboard, paper, aluminum, steel, tin, glass, plastic containers, and plastic film (plastic bags). These items are delivered to the company, which has bought the materials to produce something new. In the end, about 6-7% is waste that can't be recycled. Much less than I had expected.

We learned that the PG County area used to have 75 landfills, but now has 31. They can't build new landfills, so they need to recycle. Also, the PG Country recycling center is business that seeks to make money and seeks to recycle everything it can. It's money for the taxpayers, resources for businesses, and one way to keep trash out of the environment. A great deal for everyone.

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