Recycle, carbon footprint, go green. They are all environmental buzz words we’ve heard thousands of times and the push to save the Earth is moving full speed ahead. One-hundred and thirty communities in Massachusetts have “pay as you throw” programs, making you responsible to pay for your trash, but recycling is free.
“People don’t understand how expensive it is to throw away trash, and how recycling is a commodity,” says Andrea Yonge, Municipal education coordinator for Casella Waste Systems, Inc.
In those cities and towns, often less trash is sent to landfills, so more ends up in recycling bins, saving the city or town money. Though, still, not everyone is convinced. “So many people really think that when they put the recycling out on the curb, it really goes to the landfill,” Yonge says.
So we went to see for ourselves, just what happens once all of those recyclable items leave the curb. They might just end up here, at Casella in Charlestown, or their other facility in Auburn. Casella is the first company to bring zero-sort recycling to Massachusetts, making your job easier. All you do is throw everything in the recycling bin, and Casella does the rest, and it all starts here.
“This is all the pots and pans that come out of the recycling stream. Typically not allowed in the stream, but could have some value to it,” says Bob Cappadona, Casella’s recycling market area manager.
The first station in the plant is manual labor, the workers are looking for items that can not be recycled. Next, the glass is removed, and once the machines get cranking, it all moves very quickly and the technology takes over.
“Before we did the retro-fit here in Charlestown, the old system processed 20 tons an hour. This system, an upgrade, processes 45 tons an hour, so it’s twice as much, which means you can accept twice as much in volume,” Cappadona says.
Fifty belts are used to move the recyclables and eight different eagle vision optical sorts help to separate all of the items.
“The simplest way to explain an optical sort, is cameras that identify any types of plastics or aluminum, and blows them up with air jets, then gets thrown over the divider plate,” Cappadona says.
From paper, to milk jugs, to laundry detergent containers, everything is sorted right down to the size of the item, and the specific type of commodity. Once all of the items are sorted, it’s time to bail them. “This bailer is a 2 ram bailer, aptly named the gorilla bailer. Both rams has anywhere from 2500 to 3000 pounds of pressure that compacts each commodity,” Cappadona says.
“There are companies all over the United States, most of our products are sent domestically, some are exported. There’s local, there’s local fiber mills here in Mass, plastic mills all the way down the east coast, down the southern, Georgia, Carolinas, there’s different mills for every single commodity,” Yonge says.
Casella in Charlestown is the fourth largest material recovery facility in the nation. They process about 16,000 tons of recyclables each month. Depending on the market, each bail has a price tag of as low as $15, all the way up to $1,000 per bail, it all depends on the economy. Recycled items are around us everyday.
Some are obvious to us, others are not. But rest assured, if you put it in the recycling bin, it does get recycled.
For more information visit the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection's Waste & Recycling homepage.