Recycling in Massachusetts: How Do They Process Single Stream Recyclables?

We know that Single Stream Recycling is a much easier process for consumers to participate in, and that it dramatically increases the amount of trash that is diverted away from landfills. But what happens to all of that material once it goes to a processing plant? And how do they actually separate papers from plastic, from glass to aluminum?

Here’s a quick primer.

1)      Graham Waste, or another recycling and hauling company pick up recycling at curbside, or at a central recycling area.

2)      All of the recycled materials are taken to a central facility for separating and processing. This is where things get interesting.

3)      Once at a recycling processing plant, your recyclables are combined with those from thousands of other homes into giant piles that are often pushed around via bulldozers or other heavy equipment.

4)      From there, these massive piles of recyclable materials are put onto processing conveyor belts.

5)      Many cans or recyclable metals can be plucked from the conveyor belt by large and powerful magnets. These magnets leave all of the paper and plastic on the conveyor belt, taking care of one level of sorting.  The metal and aluminum is this crushed together into giant blocks and sold off to new metals processors, where it will be re-used for consumer and commercial products

6)      In some facilities, sorting can also be done by sorting flats from round objects. This can help sift plastic bottles from papers, which lay flat. It also helps separate glass from paper.

7)      Paper is then collected, pressed together and sold off by the ton to paper processors to make items such as paper towel rolls or cardboard packaging. Recycled paper can also be mixed new pulp to make newsprint, books or even glossy magazines.

8)      As well as recycling plants are planned out, sometimes they still need good old fashioned people power. Oftentimes, workers stand along the recycling belt and sweep items into the correct groups. This results in accurate sorting and ensures that the right materials are re=processed correctly.

Obviously, there are many different ways for recycling plants to operate, but this is a simple look at how Single Stream Recycling in Massachusetts is separated and processed once it’s been taken from your curbside.