Proper Recycling and Why You Should Care

Doreen Schreiber

Ever wonder what happens to your recycling once it leaves the curb? If you live in Cuyahoga County, your curbside recycling goes to one of three material recovery facilities, often called MRFs. These MRFs are owned by private waste companies located in Akron, Twinsburg, and Oberlin.

In a perfect world, everything you put out for curbside recycling would be acceptable. Unfortunately, that’s not the case because not everything can be recycled through a MRF. These high-tech facilities are designed to sort many, but not all types of recyclables. Problems – we call contamination — occur when people put things in the recycling bin that cannot be sorted or sold into a recycling market.

Contamination rates at the MRFs serving Cuyahoga County range from about 16 percent to 23 percent. This is very high. It’s due to people assuming and wishing that if they put certain (wrong) things in their recycling bin the items in question will still get recycled. That is not the case! The reality is that these contaminants have to be sorted out at a high cost before being sent to a landfill anyway.

Consequences of Recycling Contamination

Contamination, in the form of non-recyclable plastics, ceramics, hazardous materials, and things that tangle like plastic bags, is costly to a MRF. The more contamination there is to sort, the more time it takes to remove the material which increases operational costs.

Another downside is that some things can injure workers. Needles, pressurized containers, sharp metal pieces, and even the bowling balls people put in their recycling can cause injury to sorters on the line.

You Can’t Recycle Tanglers

One of the top contamination culprits is something commonly called a “tangler.” Tanglers are ropes, hoses, plastic bags, and anything that can easily wrap around the gears of the machines at the recycling plant. These tanglers get wound around the sortation equipment and have to be removed by hand. This means the plant has to be idled causing downtime. This is a very costly shutdown.

Correct Recycling for the Future

In the past several years the MRFs have invested millions of dollars in upgrading their processing equipment to accept more materials like cartons and increase sorting efficiencies. To help preserve our opportunity to recycle locally through these facilities we must do our part by putting the correct materials in the recycling bin.

When we reduce contamination, we reduce the chance a worker will be injured and we improve the efficiency of the plant along with the quality of recycled materials. This ensures our opportunity to recycle for years to come.