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All articles here are written by Melinda Briana Epler (that's me!) unless otherwise noted. I'm a documentary filmmaker, writer, and brand experience designer - I've dedicated my life to living a sustainable lifestyle and helping others do the same. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions or thoughts for articles. Welcome!

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Great Reading

What Happens To Recycling After It Leaves The Curb?

I found this series of videos the other day, and I was transfixed.  I will warn you the narrator is a bit annoying at first, but the content is quite interesting (and each video is very short).  I never knew the intricate process of recycling!  Somehow I imagined guys in sweat suits and gloves, bent over and sorting our recycling.  Oh how wrong…   

 

Click “Continue Reading” to see the videos!

1. Introduction

2. The Separation Process

3. Paper Processing

4. Metal Processing

5. Plastic Processing

6. Glass Processing

 

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12 comments to What Happens To Recycling After It Leaves The Curb?

  • Great post, Melinda! If anyone in the Northwest is ever interested, they do public tours at Waste Management’s Cascade Recycling Center if you can organize a group to go. It’s well worth seeing! :) http://www.wmnorthwest.com/cascaderecycling/tour.html

  • Awesome video! Thanks for sharing! My MIL’s town has a recycling facility like this. Unfortunately, ours is the old fashioned separate it all and take it to the recycling facility yourself. As a result, most people don’t recycle here and it drives me nuts. In fact, I’m working on a post about it for next week since we’re currently building a new landfill. Ugh!

  • Very interesting! We have this type of facility here, and I always wondered just how they went about all that separation.

  • Rob

    That is interesting- I too thought it was unskilled labor- Ohhhh how wrong.

  • clayton

    Thanks for the videos melinda. Recycling is a good thing, relative to landfills, but unfortunately it isnt the chirpy world created by the narrator. these industry videos don’t talk about the preferred alternatives of reducing and reusing, to avoid the energy intensive ‘downcycling’ that occurs when reprocessing waste reduces the quality of the input material.
    Remember when beer and milk containers were washed and refilled instead of being ground up, melted and remade? Maybe we can get there again. Use your tote, Stop your junk mail and read the news online!

  • Susan & Clayton, Great to see you here – thanks so much for your comments! Clayton, I agree completely – these videos make clear how much energy is used just to process the recycled items, let alone making them into new objects. A big portion of Matt & my reducing our CO2 output to 10% of average has been to find ways of minimizing containers, packaging, etc.

    Heather, I forget that there are so many communities still without recycling facilities. Such a shame!! Wow.

    Joyce & Rob, Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Also not mentioned here is that after separation, much (most?) of the separated materials are shipped to China for the actual recycling…then shipped back here as finished goods. This really made me re-think my self-congratulatory attitude toward the stuff I recycle. Just because I’m recycling it doesn’t mean it has no impact.

    There was also a report on NPR last week that explained that there are huge warehouses full of recyclables in California ports, just sitting there because it’s more expensive to sort and ship the materials than they can actually be sold for. A ton of recyclable paper sells for $50/ton now, vs. $250/ton a short while back. What do you think happens to recyclables when the bottom falls out of the market? I’m betting “landfill.”

  • Jen

    This would be great to show my kids in class. What website are these videos from?

  • interrested reader

    jen, i am very sorry you had that immage but i think everybody should take recycling seiorsly so if you could do me a favor and get every body in ur coumunity to recyle

  • Dave

    I’d wondered how automated separation worked and that’s why I visited here–thanks so much for posting these. It’s amazing what they can do these days!

    Even with the problems pointed out–the huge amount of energy involved in recycling, and the huge amounts of recyclables in California ports–it’s still much better to recycle than not. I agree with those who recommend the three R’s–Reduce, Reuse, Recycle–in that order.

    Maybe some day we’ll be able to recycle just about everything.

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