North Texas Daily

Your recycling habits are trash — let’s change that

Your recycling habits are trash — let’s change that

March 28
13:30 2018

Are paper towels recyclable? Can I recycle grocery bags with the rest of my recycling? This greasy pizza box is made of cardboard, so it’s recyclable, right? No, no, no!

Most people are uninformed about the many intricacies of recycling. I hope to shed some light and dispel any standing misconceptions about this practice that paves a path to a cleaner earth.

There are two main types of recycling facilities: single stream recycling plants and dual stream recycling plants.

Single stream recycling plants gather all recyclable materials and place them on a conveyor belt in a material recovery facility. They are then sorted based on their material components by a series of machines and people.

Dual stream recycling plants usually offer services which require recyclers to keep sorted paper material separate from all of their other recyclables. The paper is taken away to a special facility, while the other materials are then placed within a material recovery facility.

It is important to remember that soiled material, which is classified as contaminated, can corrupt an entire batch of recyclable items. Rather than risking the spread of contamination, all these materials are trucked to the dump.

In short, cleaning your recyclable items is essential.

The main materials commonly considered recyclable are paper, steel, glass, aluminum and plastic.

Paper is mainly made of two ingredients: cellulose fibers and water. In order for paper to be recycled correctly, it must first be broken down into these two components. The paper is gathered together in large bundles and placed in a hot water bath. This separates the paper into strands of cellulose fibers.

After this process is completed, the paper, now called pulp, is placed through another bath which removes ink, dirt and other debris.

The recycling process of glass is quite fascinating. Glass must be smashed into tiny pieces by machines which ensure that no piece is larger than 5 cm. Glass can then be super-heated and reshaped. Glass must be separated by color at the recycling facility. The tinting of glass, usually green or brown, is used to avert UV radiation from the contents, which would otherwise spoil the product. This is why beer and wine bottles are nearly always tinted. The different shades of tinted glass are composed of alternate elements, so if the smashed pieces of glass were of mixed origin, they would not successfully recombine after being heated.

The recycling methods associated with plastic are rather complex. As there are many different types of plastic, each composed of different elements, the recycling processes differ based on the components involved in each item’s creation.

Recyclable materials are divided into six categories. The plastic item is imprinted with a recycle emblem and a corresponding number located within the emblem, and each category contains plastics which must be treated and processed uniquely.

Some plastics contain dangerous chemicals, such as hydrochloric acid, which when heated are released. This is one reason why the separation process is so important.
The separation methods used by material recovery facilities are baffling.

Large magnets separate steel from the (usually) non-magnetic aluminum, while a large device called an “air classifier” separates aluminum, glass and plastic from one another based on weight. A series of devices called rotary screen separators perform a similar function with rubber, toothy wheels which push lighter materials to higher conveyor belts and allows heavier materials like glass and aluminum to fall through strategically placed spaces.

Most people are vaguely aware of the importance of recycling. For example, reusing steel items is way more practical and cost-effective than locating and mining for more steel. When recycling services are not offered or recycling is not practiced, the environment experiences immense degradation. Fish can contain plastic shards in their gut and sea turtles’ shells can be horrifically modified by six-pack rings. There are endless examples that further the indisputable argument that recycling is essential.

We are responsible for our planet and the organisms we share it with. Each of us should strive to understand why we should care about this beautiful planet and how to care for it.

Featured Image: Illustration by Austin Banzon

About Author

Sean Rainey

Sean Rainey

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