WARNING: Do Not Recycle Rocket Launchers!


IMG_3831 I took a tour of the County Waste and Recycling plant in Albany, and it was really interesting.

About 90% of what people normally put in the trash can be recycled. Only 54.3% of all that humans throw away actually goes into the landfill, 34% is recycled, and 11.7% of it is burned to create energy.

When curbside recycling began, the stuff had to be separated into different groups, like  paper, plastic, and metal. But, since the dawn of single stream recycling plants, people have been able to throw their recyclables into one bin.

Now we can even leave the food scraps in the containers! Unless the food is actually destroying the container itself, you can leave it in. However, they still don’t like the smell of rotting food, and would appreciate it if you did wash it out.

One thing most people don’t realize, however, is that they shouldn’t recycle the things that have multiple materials fused together. For example, look at a Pringles can. Do you see how the lid is plastic, the walls are cardboard, and the bottom is metal?

When different materials are fused together like that, they can’t be recycled properly. You can still recycle the lid, but not the rest.

Although you can recycle so much now there are still a few things that shouldn’t be, such as VHS Cassette tape, styrofoam, porcelain dishes, and paper cups.

Glass bottles can be recycled but other kinds, like from windows or mirrors, get ground into the machine and destroy it over time. And there’s not much market for that type of recycled glass.

Remember though, all of those limitations only apply to the recycling bin that you put out at the curb. You may be able to find some place to recycle them other than in the bin at the curb.

Also, you might think that the title of this is rather odd, but the sorters in the Albany recycling plant found a rocket launcher once, and really, it’s not recyclable. Some of the other things they’ve found include bear paws and skins, and both live and dead animals, especially dogs, cats, skunks and raccoons.

Live animals do not belong in the recycling bin. They should be “recycled” in a pound! (Actually, most live animals climb into recycling bins on their own looking for food but then can’t get out.)

Dead animals, while biodegradable and stinky, are NOT recyclable. So have pity on the workers and don’t put roadkill in your recycling bin

Now a word of caution about personal information: Personal checks that people have put in the recycling bin can be found, every day, sitting on the ground in the recycling center having fallen off the conveyor belt. Although they can be recycled, it’s not a great idea to simply put them in recycling bin where your personal information can be found.

Things like this should be shredded. All shredded material should be thrown away in a clear plastic bag and put in the recycling bin. If shredded paper is just dumped in a bin, the pieces are too small to get sorted as paper. But, if you put it all in a see through bag it can be easily seen as paper and recycled with the rest of the paper.

Once the stuff you’ve put into your recycling bin  gets into the system, recycling plant employees called sorters manually pick through it and see what can be recycled and what is just trash. They have to pick out the trash and get it off the conveyor belt.

These employees have to average 40 or more picks per minute as the trash goes past them. Supervisors monitor the sorters twice an hour to make sure they’re working at the right pace. Being a sorter is a tough job and, while 70 percent of them have done the job for over 6 months, the rest only stick around for a few weeks. Some only stay for fifteen minutes!

After animals and trash have been sorted out by the pickers, the recyclables go through electric sorters. One separates iron and steel cans. It picks them up with a magnet and brings them to a pile. Another cool machine is the optical sorter. It looks at the objects, then shoots the right ones over a small wall with little jets of air. It’s cool to see.

But do you want to know what the coolest part about the recycling plant is? They have a mini flare gun to scare the seagulls away! It doesn’t hurt the seagulls but it keeps them from being a nuisance to the neighbors.

If you get a chance to tour the Albany recycling plant, go. You’ll learn a lot, it’s really fascinating and you’ll appreciate the next step in the life of your trash!IMG_3836