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After you place materials in a recycling bin, either at a business or at home, recycling trucks come and pick up the materials. Mixed recycling is compressed in the truck, and glass and other special materials are kept separate.
The recycling trucks dump each material in specific areas at the Material Recovery Facility (MRF). The mixed recycling is piled onto conveyor belts to be sorted.
On the conveyor belt
First is a belt of large spinning gears that sort out large pieces of cardboard while the rest of the material falls through to lines below based on the size of material. Workers pull off contaminants and specific recyclables. A magnet pulls out small metals and a back eddy sorts out the aluminum cans. Along the line, plastic bottles, plastic jugs, paper and cans are piled separately and compressed into bales. These bales are then shipped to local or international buyers who process the raw material into a substance that can be sold to manufacturers to make new products.
Recyclables are sorted by hand
Our system relies on the sharp eyes and fast hands of our sorters, so it is important to keep them safe by only recycling the accepted materials. If a material has a recycling symbol on it, it still may not be accepted in the curbside collection. We sort based on size and shape. Anything flat will be sorted into paper or cardboard so please keep out small scraps of plastic and metal, like lids and caps, unless they are securely fastened to the bottle. There may be other recycling options beyond the curb for certain materials, but these are separate from the curbside system.
You have an important role in keeping our recycled material high quality by recycling right and eliminating contaminants.
1. Paper coffee cups
Soiled paper contaminated by food and liquids should not be recycled. Additionally, paper coffee cups often have a plastic or wax lining making them non-recyclable and non-compostable. You can reduce this waste by using a reusable coffee cup!
2. Freezer boxes
Any type of cardboard packaging that goes in the freezer or fridge is wet-strength packaging that has a chemical composition to make it more durable and preserve food, but it is not recyclable. Most common are microwave/frozen dinner boxes, butter stick boxes, soda boxes, etc.
3. Plastic drink cups
Plastic drink cups are weak and become smashed when collecting recyclables, making them difficult to separate from paper. Additionally, plastic cups are a common litter along the road which pollutes the environment. You can reduce this waste by using reusable cups and straws!
4. Plastic lids
Whether plastic or metal, they may end up being sorted into paper bales because they are small and flat. Place metal lids in the can and crimp the lid so that it doesn’t fall out. Screw plastic bottle caps on securely. Discard snap on lids in the trash.
5. Plastic clamshell
Plastic clamshells are very common in grocery stores and as take out containers. They often have a hinged lid and are composed of a brittle, clear plastic that shatters into pieces during the sorting process. This material is a challenge to recycle and is not currently accepted by any known local recyclers. Consider buying products in packaging that you know is recyclable to reduce waste.
6. Plastic film/bag
Plastic bags and other thin, stretchy plastic films and wraps get tangled in recycling equipment and cause the sort line to shut down while it is cut out by hand and thrown in the garbage. However, there are recycling options for this material at your local Safeway, Albertson, Fred Meyer and other grocery stores participating in the WRAP program.
7. Block foam
Block foam, also known as Styrofoam, is not recyclable curbside. This includes block foam cups, food trays and bulky packing material. Packing peanuts can be reused for packing and mailing and may be accepted by local post offices. Large, ridgid block foam can be dropped off at Central Transfer & Recycling Center (11034 NE 117th Ave, Vancouver, WA). Agilyx in Tigard, Oregon accepts any #6 polystyrene material in their drop off bins but these materials should never go in your curbside recycling in Clark County.
8. Pizza boxes
Any paper or cardboard that is soiled with food or grease is not recyclable. Consider composting these materials.
Keeping the mixed recycling dry and clean is important for the quality of the recycling. Make sure that you empty your containers of food before recycling. Consider composting food scraps or food soiled paper at home.
Clothes are a good resource that can be reused or repurposed. Donate these items to charities or thrift stores if they are in good condition or get crafty and create something out of old fabric scraps. Textiles and clothing should never go in your recycling cart.
11. Tangly items
Items such as hoses, wire hangers, ribbons, and other long, stringy materials can get caught in the sorting equipment and cause the line to shut down while the waste materials are removed by hand.
12. Shredded paper
Shredded paper is too small and is lost during the sorting. Best practice is to drop shredded paper off directly at the transfer station or use a paper shredding company (companies may have fees).
It may seem obvious that diapers, especially dirty diapers, should not go in the recycling bin, but we still see them coming down the sort line. Please keep all human and pet wastes and non-recyclables out of the recycling cart. It is especially unsanitary for our workers who sort on the line by hand.