Dear Recyclebank: How are contaminants removed during the recycling process? –A.J.
Dear A.J.: When we talk about “contaminants,” we have to consider a few different factors. First, there’s trash and non-recyclable materials that can carelessly be added to the stream. Then, there’s residue like food and adhesives that may still be hanging onto the recyclables. Finally, there’s the possibility for otherwise recyclable materials to end up being sorted into the wrong batch at the MRF.
Recycling plants have a procedure designed to minimize all of these pitfalls. Whether the materials are being recycled on the premises or sold to other suppliers, sorting is done both by machine and by hand. Recycling machinery runs items down conveyer belts and uses tools such as air jets and magnets to separate recyclables by material, while workers check to make sure mistakes haven’t snuck in. Materials are also thoroughly cleaned before shredding, crushing, or melting, in order to make sure that foreign matter doesn’t compromise the integrity of the finished batch.
Small amounts of what we may consider contamination can also get removed by the manufacturers who buy batches of recyclables. For example, some adhesive can be removed from shreds of paper at the paper mill, during the paper-making process.
It’s always important to keep in mind that the process doesn’t begin at the facility, but with you. By taking the time to clean your recyclables and know what doesn’t belong in the bin, you’ve already played an important part in keeping the recycling stream free of contamination.