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Dry & Clean- Following the Recycling Trail

Dry & Clean


Sounds simple, right? Since I am a lover of the environment and spend a lot of my time blogging about the environment and how to be live more plastic free and make better choices- I was curious to follow the trail of what happens to our recycling once it’s pickup from our blue bins.
So last week I took my 7 yr old daughter on a field trip to our local recycling and transfer station- Mt. Diablo Recycling. We had a wonderful tour of the ins and outs of recycling. I particularly like their motto of “Use Less- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Recover”. I asked about “Recover” since I am keenly aware of the first 3 “R’s”. Recover means they try to minimize the number of items that are sent to the landfill and find other places for them. For example, while we were there, we walked around the mountains of recycling and there were plastic hoses, a tv, clothes, and shoes. All of these items cannot be recycled here, but Mt. Diablo Recycling sends them on to places where they can be, instead of putting them in the landfill.


So to start the recycling journey- in our area- Republic Services takes care of picking up our trash, recycling and green bin (plant & compost discards). They then take all of the recycling to Mt. Diablo Recycling and drop off their load of recyclables. There, they have a great machine called Big Blue that surprisingly does a wonderful job of sorting all of the recyclables. Big Blue is a multi-level machine with multiple conveyor belts that systematically sorts the piles of recycling that is put on it. There are workers along the way to double check and make sure that it is functioning and sorting appropriately. At our local transfer station, they separate and collate into bails several kinds of recyclables: paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminum and glass.
Big Blue runs 24 hours a day processing the area recyclables, which basically means we all use a lot of products that are packaged and need recycling. More than 50% of everything processed is cardboard, followed by plastic with aluminum and glass at 10%. Our center processes 400 tons a day from 10 cities.
After everything that can be recycled is put into bails, they are transferred to other facilities for processing. Aluminum and glass stay local to be repurposed, but still 90% of the bails go overseas. I was surprised by this after reading about China’s ban last year on most of our plastics. They told me that they have found other buyers for our recycling in countries like Vietnam and the Philippines. China does still take some plastic- but very little. When the bails reach their final destination, they are repurposed into other materials and products. One of their Chinese importers sent Mt. Diablo Recycling a fleece jacket that they had made from the plastic water bottles they received. Recycled plastic can take many new forms - but the problem remains that our country is producing a vast amount of plastic waste and there is only a small market of manufacturers to repurpose it.
My two takeaways from this field trip are practical.
1) Reduce your plastic and paper consumption by making better buying choices. (for example, reduce the purchase of single-use plastics- straws, water bottles, etc)
2) For the recycling that you do have- make sure that it is clean and dry when you put it into your recycling bin. If there is food or liquid stuck inside the plastic containers, many of them cannot be recycled. But let’s not waste a ton of water doing this, keep a small cup of water in your kitchen sink (my bowl catches water every time I turn the water on) and use this water to rinse containers before they head to recycling.
Small changes will help us save our environment. :)

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