Behind the scenes at a recycle plant
In the world of curbside recycling, there are a lot of things that can be recycled – and a lot of things that can’t. Some of the things that have come through Rocky Mountain Recycling in Salt Lake over the years which have not worked out so well include a dead pig, a dead goat, and a live boa constrictor.
If recyclers have questions about what does not get recycled, recycling etiquette, how small can an item be to be recycled, and what happens at a recycling plant, Rocky Mountain has answers.
Kelley Lakin, the Rocky Mountain Salt Lake plant manager has been in the business since 1990, and marveles at shift to recycling. "I’ve seen it from its infancy, now into its adulthood." He said landfills are quickly running out of space and that recycling cuts out a major portion of what would otherwise end up in landfills.
Jack Erickson, the facility manager at Rocky Mountain, said that green waste in recycling cans is a big problem, especially in towns like Park City that do not have collect green waste. "Some people use the recycling cans as a throw all," he said.
Glass is not accepted in curbside recycling in Park City and other local areas serviced by Allied Waste, said Aimee Lapioli, a customer service representative for Allied. Glass shards that end up on recycling plant conveyer belts can easily cut through the heavy gloves sorters wear.
Recycle Utah in Park City does have bins to recycle glass. The clear and green glass is recycled to make building insulation. Brown glass is separated andshipped by rail to Coors Brewing in Colorado to make new beer bottles.
But the story that topped them all that Erickson and Lakin still talk about is the 15 foot live boa constrictor that was recycled. "This big guy working the line came down the ramp saying ‘there is a snake loose,’ said Erickson. "We wondered what the big deal was until we saw the snake. We were able to get it in a bin, and then call animal control. They found a home for it, I think in a zoo."
The Rocky Mountain facility processes about 90 tons of recyclables a day, Erickson said. He estimates about 20 tons a month come from Summit County, which he thinks is great that a relatively small area in population is recycling so much.
At first glance, the hillocks of commingled smashed plastics, paper and cans look like a landfill – except there is little odor, no seagulls, and no big junk. Recycle trucks come and go, with the constant warning beeps from trucks backing, soon to add to the mounds. Giant conveyer belts carry the material to be presorted by machinery. The remainder of material moves by 25 to 30 sorters at about the speed of a treadmill, and they sort further, throwing cans and plastics and plastic bags in giant containers. The bulk of the material, paper, continues on the belt where it ends up in mounds at the end of the belt. Some smaller recyclables get through, and the resulting mounds will be run through the entire process again and again, until all but about five percent has been saved, most of which is food scraps and yard waste.
Lakin said that once separated, materials are compressed and baled, and sent by truck and rail cars, most of which end up at mills in the Northwest, because of the accessibility of water, used in the conversion of the materials into usable products. The water used in the process is also recycled.
Milk jugs, Lakin said, will be used to make carpet, other plastics will be used in clothing, and newspapers eventually become new newspapers.
As the recycling trend grows, Lakin said new technology will bring more efficiency to the process, making it an even more efficient, viable business.
Erickson likes his job, saying, Rocky Mountain Recycling is the best company I’ve ever worked for. Lakin agreed. Likely there will not be a shortage of work in the foreseeable future.
Items to keep out of curbside recycling:
No ‘green’ waste of branches, leaves or lawn clippings
No food should be in recycled containers.
Nothing made of Styrofoam, including packaging, meat tray packaging and Styrofoam packing bubbles.
Newspapers should not be baled, as the string or chord can interfere with equipment. There doesn’t have to be any organized stacking or separating in curbside bins as items will mix before the efficient recyclers and machinery sort it.
For more recycling information, contact Recycle Utah in Park City at 649-9698.
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