While many things are becoming recyclable, not everything with a recycling symbol should go in your curbside cart. Why? To answer that, we have to go behind the scenes…
Let's hop on the Waste Connections recycling truck with our friendly, neighborhood driver. At each house, the driver gives Big Blue a hug with the truck arm and tips the contents into the back of the truck. Glass is placed in a separated top compartment of the truck. Motor oil in clear, gallon jugs and bagged batteries are secured on a bucket shelf on the side of the truck. The driver continues on, navigating the big rig around parked cars and cul-de-sacs with meticulous talent.
Three times a day, he drives back to the West Van Materials Recovery Center to dump his load. He empties glass out down a chute where it piles at the bottom. Then, he pours the oils into a big vat and drops the batteries in a metal crate. Finally, it's time to tip the mixed recyclables onto the sorting floor.
From there, the mixed recycling is piled by Bobcats and dropped onto a conveyer belt. The belt shoots up into a series of rotating disks that allow heavier objects, cans and plastics, to drop onto several belts below depending on their size. Clouds of paper billow up to another belt. It's these disks and belts that plastic bags, hoses, wire, and other tangling contaminants get stuck in—requiring the whole line to be shut down while workers clean out the disks twisted up like hair in a vacuum.
Belts wind through the building, past lines of people snatching out contaminants faster than slap jack players. A rotating magnet and back eddy helps to sort out metal and aluminum, but a large part of the sorting depends on workers' quick eyes and hands.
Once materials are sorted, they fall to the floor where they are baled, stacked, and inspected for visible contaminants.
All sorted materials are sold to buyers who make the materials into a usable form and sell them to industries that produce a variety of products. However, recyclers are very particular about the quality and type of materials they accept, so Waste Connections can only process recyclable materials they know they can sell. They also have to be mindful of the quantity; if they don't collect enough material, it is not profitable to sell to recyclers and not worth the time and energy.
Josy Wright, Recycle Manager for Waste Connections, said, "We have buyers for our accepted materials. The problem is when people put things in that are not on our list." She pointed out a paint brush laying on the sorting floor and a plastic table cloth blocking one of the belts.
Optimistically, she continued, "But there are other programs available for residents to recycle materials that we don't accept—like taking plastic bags and film to retail stores." A variety of materials, such as lumber, electronics, and more can be dropped off directly at the transfer station. You can also search any material in our Recycling A- Z or on the Recycle Right App to see how to properly dispose or recycle it.