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Many Pasco residents are surprised to hear that paper and cardboard products can go in the same container as all their regular recycling. How can this single stream of mixed recyclables be separated into one material or another? The process is complicated. First, contamination and large, bulky items are removed by hand. Then, agitation is used to remove glass shards and small items such as bottle caps. Huge machines then “fluff” the stream, using air and more agitation to separate fiber (paper and cardboard) from everything else. A magnet pulls away any material that contains iron, mostly steel cans.
Usually an air classifier will use a fan to push lighter goods like aluminum and plastic to a different conveyor belt while allowing heavier items to fall to a lower conveyor. An eddy current separator pushes aluminum out of the stream using an induction (reverse) magnet. Finally, an optical sorter uses infrared to separate different grades of plastic based on the spectrum of light they reflect. This way, more valuable plastic like #1 or #2 can be identified. Gone are the days where separate bins for paper, plastic, and cans lined the streets; today, single-stream recycling is the norm, allowing curbside recycling to be as convenient as possible.
Some of the problems in our recycling stream are not caused by ignorance or apathy, but instead, by too much enthusiasm. Some people wish they could recycle more. They look at the restrictions on our program and believe that if they could just sneak that plastic toy, patio chair, or bicycle wheel into the recycling stream, it would have to be recycled.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The hope to recycle a non-recyclable items is known as wishcycling, but in this case, not all wishes should come true. Putting forbidden items into your local recycling stream does nothing to increase recycling. In fact, those #6 plastic cups, aluminum foil, and grocery bags only become contamination in the recycling stream and can even keep other materials from being recycled properly. If a load of recycling is too contaminated, it is simply rejected by processor. Be smart and recycle right! Keep plastic film and bags out of your recycling, take toys to a thrift store, don’t put aluminum foil or pans in your recycling, and no more wire hangers, ever! Want a handy guide? Call us and we’ll send you a brochure detailing Pasco’s program and a reflective recycling sticker to get you started.
Every week, recycling bins and cans get emptied and their contents get whisked away. First, they make a trip to Pasco County’s transfer station. Then, they travel to a processor for sorting and eventual sale to manufacturers that can use recycled material instead of new, raw material to make their goods. Many things affect the recycling market, and much like the housing market, volatility is expected, often for unexpected reasons. For example, the price of gas has an effect on the monetary value of recycled plastic because plastic is made from petroleum. Though lower prices at the pump equals happier people, the abundance of cheap oil presents a problem for recycling markets. Normally, recycled plastic is less expensive to use than new plastic. But, while oil is cheap, new plastic becomes cheaper and there is less demand for recycled plastic as a result.
A strong U.S. dollar has also contributed to a fluctuating recycling market. Most recycling material makes its way out of the country to fuel large manufacturing bases in Asia, and as the dollar becomes stronger, it becomes more expensive for oversees manufacturers to buy American exports, including recycling material. Finally, increased contamination in national recycling streams has led China, a major importer of U.S. recycling material, to institute a policy known as Green Fence. The “fence” is an approach that emphasize quality. If a shipment of recycling material is below an acceptable standard, it is rejected. Awareness is the first step towards action. Buy recycled products whenever possible to show with your dollars that you value recycling. Always rinse your recycling and be sure to recycle the right stuff to lower contamination
Recycling commodities rise and fall in value, plastics are coded to indicate grade, the number of participants changes, and at every step of the way, weights matter. Tons of recycling are sold, shipped, and bought, but what happens when a ton isn’t really a ton? Over the years, manufacturers have realized the benefits of creating lighter products and slimmer packaging. Thinner containers means less greenhouse gas emissions, savings on fuel costs, and less overall waste.
However, the evolution of packaging has changed the volume of recycling versus the weight of recycling. Recycling processors churn through much more recycling by volume to break even on the number of tons recycled. What can you do to help? Recycle more! The more you recycle, the higher the weights get, and the more you ensure the stability of the recycling industry. You’ll be helping the economy and making an environmental difference in the future of our world. The amount of recyclable material in everyday life is nothing less than astonishing.