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Because You Asked

Because You Asked: How Are Contaminants Removed From Recycling?

By Recyclebank |

Contamination is fought on several different fronts, beginning with you and ending with manufacturers.

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.

University of Oregon
Waste Management

Do you have any favorite tips for reducing recycling contamination at home? Please share in the comments below!

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  • Julie L. 1 year ago
    Wash them in dishwasher or in left over dish water.
  • Claire M. 1 year ago
    I run my recyclable jars and plastic tubs in the dishwasher before recycling when I have room.
  • bruce k. 1 year ago
    I currently live in Casper WY where recycling is not happening.
  • Todd H. 1 year ago
    I routinely find my neighbor's recycle bins overflowing with non recyclables and remind them in a nice way how important it is to only put proper recyclables in the bin and toss the rest in the regular trash
  • Rhonda K. 1 year ago
    A few thoughts, why cant styrofoam be recycled? Even if ground up n used for backing? So many large items come w formed foam around it. It just makes me sad to see filling landfills. Second we are having a serous litter problem here in Springfiield, IL. Along w a large increase in corner panhandlers. Can't we get a program started to give them an opportunity to earn money by picking up all litter? Our city looks so dirty
    • Michael N. 1 year ago
      Yes, license the legitimate panhandlers and give them incentives to earn as much by providing a service....many courts in our state sentence law breakers to serve community and picking up trash is the best way to serve the sentence (STS).
    • Rhonda K. 1 year ago
      I guess if they are making $200-300 a day, why would they work? I have offered several panhandles $10, to pick up trash, they come back 10 min later wanting the money. Most people don't make $10 an hour, when I tell them they need to put a lil more effort into it, they say it's not worth it.
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