I will tell you that when we first moved here from Alameda County - a county that had multiple bins for us to use, I was flipping out. I called my garbage company several times, drilling them on the logistics of how our garbage is handled, "Are you sure you recycle all of our stuff?" There are recycling bins around town, for newspaper, cardboard, plastic bottles, and polystyrene foam (aka Styrofoam used in packaging things like new electronics.), for residents who wish to have a bit of control over the recycling process.
When I am educating students (with ReCreate) about where our garbage goes, inevitably a teacher will ask why we don't just sort it at home. What most people don't know, if that while you and I may be committed to sorting our garbage, not all waste is sorted in other regions. Take that garbage can outside the grocery store, for instance. In other regions, that garbage goes straight to the landfill. Here in Placer County, it is sorted, just like our household garbage
I've been to the MRF, many times, but was happy to be able to take my kids so they fully understood this zero waste journey we set off on. In our region, each day about 1.5 millions pounds of garbage is brought to the MRF. It is dropped on the receiving floor, and then tractors push it on conveyor belts starting the sorting process.
|City of Lincoln truck on the receiving floor.|
On the other side of the wall, the garbage starts the sorting journey. First people manually open the garbage bags. Then the garbage goes through something called the Trommel Screen, which sorts garbage by size. Large items go to people to manually sort them - picking out the recyclables. Smaller items continue through the mechanical sorting process. This is pretty cool to watch. Some work is done by people, but the machines do a lot to help sort the materials.
Giant magnets grab the ferrous metals... I'm talking soup cans, paperclips, bobby pins, the smallest bits of metal don't get past this thing! Here is a video of how it works.
Aluminum cans also are collected in an interesting way toward the end of the garbage sorting cycle. The garbage travels through an eddy current, and the result is that the aluminum cans float up, while the rest of the garbage drops down. This allows the aluminum to be sorted for recycling. The entire process can be seen here, click on MRF
The one thing we do separate at our homes is yard waste. Our lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, and other yard waste goes into our Green Bin and it is turned into compost. It takes about 8 weeks for the stuff to decompose (with a little help) into high quality soil amendment.
|The compost is warm when you touch it because it is so busy decomposing!|
|My kids checking out the giant rows of compost.|
Hare are some random pictures I took along the way to give you an idea of the volume of waste passing through the MRF.
|Good thing these plastic bottles are going to recycling. A plastic bottle takes about 700 years to decompose in a landfill.|
|Paper baled for recycling|
|Final check on the paper line|
|The kids checking out the model of the MRF.|
In the end, we decided the MRF does an amazing job finding the recyclable stuff from our waste. That said, witnessing the sheer volume of waste our region generates got my kids firmly committed to our zero-waste adventure. We'll keep you updated!
Want to see more? Check out Eric Oddo, from the MRF on KVIE, here.