Let’s go to the Recycling Plant!

By Sally O’Byrne, Teacher Naturalist 

On October 11, I led a group of intrepid Delaware Nature Society members to the REcommunity Recycling center in Camden, NJ, which is where all of the curbside recycling in Wilmington is taken.  We donned our hard hats, vests, and safety glasses and entered the world of human refuse.

Prepared for hazards, we entered the recycling plant.

First stop was the area where trucks unload the single stream (combined) recycling.  

Truck unloading recycleables at the plant.

A monstrous front end loader picked up the trash and dumped it onto a steep conveyor belt which, through the ‘angle of repose’, controlled  the quantities.  It then went through a series of drums with discs that separated the glass, plastics, papers and cardboard; heavy things fell through and the lighter items floated across the top.  After each separation, a quality control team hand-sorted what the machines missed on non-stop belts. 

You may notice that the workers are wearing (or should be wearing) dust masks and gloves.  We all wondered how much they were being paid for this very intense, but very unglamorous job (the tour guide didn’t know).

Here, workers sort recyclables by hand. This is what happens to your recyclables from Wilmington!

The trash is separated until it has a 96% purity of type, and then it is conveyed to a baling machine and made into a bale that is about 1,400 pounds in weight.  Watching the conveyor belts move through the system was mesmerizing, and the finished bales of colored plastics or metal were almost artistic.

Recyclables are baled for shipping at the plant.

Markets are found for each product; the plastics become carpet fibers, crushed cans go to Anheuser Busch, and when the market is right, the glass becomes part of asphalt – a product sometimes called glasphalt.  Paper and cardboard go to China, and the small percentage of remaining refuse goes to a landfill in Ohio.  One lesson we learned – keep those bottle caps on the bottle, otherwise they will fall through the conveyor belts onto the floor and end up with the trash going to Ohio.

Please see our sidebar for upcoming adult programs through the Delaware Nature Society.

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