What Happens To My Recyclables

This week’s Greene Westford column re-posted.

IPR truck arrives for sorting at the North Andover facility.

Take a virtual tour of Integrated Paper Recyclers and learn what happens to Westford recycling once it leaves the curb.

Ever wonder what happens to your recycling after the black and yellow trucks pick it up?  Call me a garbage geek, but I was so excited when I had the opportunity to find out first hand. 

Last November, I joined members of theWestford Recycling Commission, and representatives from Chelmsford and Dracut, at the Integrated Paper Recyclers (IPR) facility in North Andover.  In addition to handling Westford’s recycling, IPR services over 40 communities locally.
IPR employees hand pick non-paper items out of the stream
Christine DeRosa of IPR showed us how the single stream recyclables are sorted into paper, cardboard, aluminum, glass and plastics 1, 2 and 3 – 7.  All of the recyclables enter the first sorting station where paper and cardboard are removed.  The mix is then hand sorted to ensure that non-paper items are removed before it is compacted into cubes called bales. 
Several years ago, IPR noticed that they were losing small bits of paper.  They added a new mechanism that is able to capture the smaller pieces of paper, even shredded paper.  The paper is sent to a paper mill in Fitchburg, MA where is it used to make the paper for books.  Most notably the Harry Potter books.  The cardboard is used to make new cereal boxes or board games like Monopoly.
The “baler” compacts each type of recyclable into a cube and secures it for transport. 
Once the paper and cardboard are removed, the rest of the mix continues along the sorting process.  Plastics are removed and sorted by their chemical makeup denoted by their recycling symbol.  Infrared machines determine the type of plastic by weight.  Plastics with a recycling symbol #1 are used to make carpeting and clothing.  Others may be turned into milk jugs or lawn furniture.  Even plastics #3 – 7 are used, according to Ms. DeRosa, to make biodiesel.
Glass is the final item to be sorted.  The glass is crushed and used as road fill.
Crushed glass is used as road fill.

Ms. DeRosa estimates that less than 10% of the almost 6500 tons of recyclables processed monthly ends up in a landfill.  She explained that it is in their best interest financially to recover as much material as possible and find outlets for it.  IPR pays to dispose of its trash just like towns do.
What is the most unwanted item that ends up in a recycling plant – plastic bags! Followed by jump ropes and kiddie pools.   Plastic bags get caught in the sorting mechanism, causing problems and time to dislodge.  Plastic bags should never go in your recycling bin.  They can be taken to grocery stores for proper recycling

Bales of paper, plastic and aluminum ready for reuse.

One Response to What Happens To My Recyclables

  1. Cat February 13, 2012 at 10:12 am #

    Interesting post! Found your blog trough http://reducefootprints.blogspot.com/2012/02/meet-greet-monday_13.html

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