Hannah Scholes. Photo courtesy of Waste Management

Hannah Scholes. Photo courtesy of Waste Management

What happens after the bin? | Guest editorial

Behind the scenes at the recycling center.

  • Thursday, February 14, 2019 8:30am
  • Opinion

By Hannah Scholes

Special to the Reporter

For many residents in Kirkland recycling isn’t a chore, it’s a life value. These folks devotedly study their recycling guide and prepare recyclables accordingly, but many still wonder what happens to all that stuff after it goes in the blue bin. This month our team takes you behind the scenes at the recycling center to de-mystify the recycling process.

After recyclables are collected at the curb, they go to a recycling sorting center. In the industry, we affectionately refer to these facilities as MRFs (materials recovery facilities) and it’s here that the real magic happens. We use a combination of advanced technology and manual sorting staff to separate the materials. A series of conveyor belts ferry recyclables through a highly organized maze of magnets, screens, storage bunkers and bins.

It’s easy to get lost in all the action at the MRF, so here are a few examples of sorting techniques:

Spinning disc screens separate flat objects from containers. Rows of spinning gears allow paper and cardboard to “surf” along the top, while bottles and cans fall through gaps and onto belts below.

Powerful magnets collect metal cans and safely deposit them in their own storage bunker.

Optical sorters use a laser to scan and identify specific types of plastic. Our optical sorter looks for PET bottles (the kind generally used for water or soda). When the machine identifies a bottle, a burst of air shoots it off the conveyor belt and into a separate container.

Workers at the facility sort a few other materials by hand and provide quality control support for the various machines.

Once all the materials are properly separated, we compact them into bales and ship them to market to start their lives as new products. It takes just 60 days for your soda can to be back in action as a new can, and that empty detergent bottle could come back as a park bench or part of your fleece jacket. Depending on the type of material, the end market could be local, in a neighboring state, or across the globe. Team WM develops relationships with a broad range of manufacturers to ensure all recyclables have a bright new future.

So, how can super recyclers support this process? By recycling all bottles, cans, paper and cardboard loose in the recycling cart! Plastic bags can damage equipment and cause safety hazards to workers because they easily get tangled up in the sorting equipment.

If you are interested in learning more about the recycling process, take a peek at our video of the Cascade Recycling Center in action here or schedule a free facility tour!

Hannah Scholes is Waste Management’s education and outreach manager. Help clean up recycling with tools and tips at RecycleOftenRecycleRight.com.

More in Opinion

This week in letters: Kirkland Summerfest, right to bear arms

Thousands of asylum seekers from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — some… Continue reading

State’s new voting system passes key test

Whew. The primary (on Aug. 6) marked the electoral debut of VoteWa,… Continue reading

Got your grill on?

Hot coals – great for burgers, bad for garbage.

Route 255 changes with the times | Coming of age…again

The most cost-effective way to use this new, integrated service is to have an ORCA card.

Integral to this country | Letter

On Aug. 2, Mr. Roger Clarke-Johnson’s letter (Bothell-Kenmore Reporter, Aug. 2) argued… Continue reading

Remembering to be proud | Windows and Mirrors

“The Art of Alzheimer’s” features work by artists who have Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia.

Publisher’s decision to limit eBook access is bad news for library patrons

What’s at stake is the issue of digital equity and access.

Reporter publishes new letters policy

Letters policy is meant to provide direction and transparency.

We’re better than this | Windows and Mirrors

The effects Trump’s words can have on us.

Delegating isn’t legislating | Letter

Think that Washington voters successfully legalized the cannabis industry? You’d be wrong.… Continue reading

Spending on female empowerment | Letter

In these past few years, I’ve been encouraged with how much focus… Continue reading

#NeverAgainIsNow | Letter

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is inflicting countless means of physical… Continue reading