General Question

Yellowdog's avatar

How do municipal sanitation departments separate recyclables?

Asked by Yellowdog (10534points) 6 days ago

Most cities have recycling services in addition to normal trash pickup—and sometimes yard waste removal as well.

Into the bin go five categories of recyclable waste—paper, glass, plastic, aluminum, and nuclear. I suspect a lot of non-recyclable plastics and waste is often placed in the containers, as well as glass that gets broken and newspapers that get wet.

Ideally, there would be a way to ‘package’ and separate types of recyclables but we are told, in Memphis at least, that it is not necessary to separate categories of recyclables.

Soooo—how can these things be separated at the recycling plant? It would be extremely time consuming and possibly hazardous to have a workforce who does this. And I personally cannot imagine how machines or sifters could do this.

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10 Answers

Jeruba's avatar


I don’t see that on this list.

I remember hearing that around here, at least (northern California), mixed recyclables are separated in water that’s spun around in giant containers. I pictured something like a huge top-loading washing machine. Paper, for example, flushes out while glass goes to the bottom. Don’t know if that’s true now or ever was, but it shouldn’t be hard to research.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

What would Joe blow citizen have for nuclear waste?

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@SQUEEKY2 I think the OP means new clear waste. Plastics or whatnot.

SQUEEKY2's avatar

Lokk at the details @RedDeerGuy1 paper, glass, plastic, aluminum, and nuclear.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@SQUEEKY2 Sorry I thought It was a typo.

Coolhandluke's avatar

Our town uses inmates to operate the recycling facility. They manually separate everything BUT it’s relatively easy for them because the truck that picks it up at your house has separate bins for glass, cardboard, plastic and paper.

kritiper's avatar

By hand off conveyor belts.

JLeslie's avatar

By machine (magnets, air,...) by hand, and even higher tech robotics. It depends on your particular facility. Some are better than others.

In my county yard waste is burned and turned into fuel/electricity. Paper waste actually can be used the same way in the facilities.

The last few years China has been rejecting the plastic we used to send them. They first were getting much pickier that nonplastics were mixed in. For example let’s say previously if 5% was not plastic they still accepted the shipment, but then it went down to 2%. I’m making up the percentages because I don’t remember the exact numbers. Now, I think they are barely taking any.

JLeslie's avatar

I just googled one of the energy producing stations near me. I think maybe they take all trash? I’m not clear. Watch the video, you need to scroll down the page a little, it’s interesting.

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