Have you ever wondered what happens to the recyclables that you put in your collection cart each week after they’re picked up at the curb?
Once the trucks drive off, they head to a materials recycling facility or MRF (pronounced “murf”). In King County, your recyclables likely end up at the Cascade Recycling Center in Woodinville where they’re emptied onto the tipping floor and the sorting begins.
The first step is for sorting staff to remove the obviously non-recyclable items from the conveyor belt. This is time-consuming and costly, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important to put only the right items in your recycling cart. Next, rotating disks separate first cardboard, then newspaper, then mixed paper from the stream of recyclables. Some of this is then sorted manually again. Next, glass is sorted out and cleaned with a vacuum, a magnet removes the steel cans, and the remaining paper gets pulled out, leaving plastic containers. The containers run through a laser scanner that can identify and sort many plastics by type. The remaining containers are then sorted manually and the aluminum cans are pulled out with a special magnet. This Waste Management video shows the whole sorting process.
Once the materials are sorted, they are sold to processors that clean, melt, grind, or otherwise prepare them for manufacturers that turn them back into useful products. Some materials are made into like products.
- Aluminum is usually made into new aluminum cans.
- Paper gets remade into magazines, cereal boxes, paper towels, and toilet paper.
- Glass bottles are made into new glass bottles. A local glass processor, Strategic Materials, has information about processing glass for recycling.
Other materials are used to make an entirely new product.
- Plastics are usually turned into durable goods such as plastic decking, carpet or fleece jackets.
- Recycled materials of various origins are used in furniture, bike parts, and bridges.
This King County video takes you through the collection, processing, and manufacturing of products from recycled materials.