Good Question

May 25, 2011 10:18 PM by John Reger

How Do Recyclables Get Separated?

When we've got recyclable materials at home, we toss them into those blue cans, regardless of what's they're made of. From most of San Luis Obispo County, it all ends up at the Cold Canyon Processing Facility in Edna Valley. Don Carrick of San Luis Obispo wanted to know, "How does it all get separated?.

Garbage trucks dump mixed loads of recyclables at the facility that are pushed onto a giant belt then moved upward to a complicated conveyor system.

"Once it gets here it's my material," says John Ryan. He's managed the facility since it opened in 2000. Using mining technology, materials are separated mechanically and by hand.

To start, workers pull out anything that can't be recycled like styrofoam, food, and certain plastics. Cardboard stays on the belt and gets spit out for bundling. Cans, plastic bottles and glass containers drop through holes onto a new belt that climbs upward from a lower level.

Workers along each belt sift out whatever doesn't belong. Certain metals are separated out by the powerful, rotating magnet that lifts up items like cans and tosses them into a bin. On the non-ferrous metal belt, a special electrical current kicks off things like soda cans into one silo while other materials fall below into another silo.

Screens with smaller and smaller holes shake glass particles down to the finest dimensions.

The facility separates 120 tons of materials a day, up to 3000 tons a month. "And that's all material we're keeping out of the landfill," says Ryan. "It's a community effort and an effort on our part as the local garbage company." Ryan says of all the stuff that comes into the facility, only about 5 percent ends up in the landfill."

In the final step, the materials are separately compressed into huge bales and sent off to customers who buy the raw materials.

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