Major cities and large national companies with lots of financial backing have what are called “single stream” programs. These programs allow all of the materials to be mixed together for collection and often then compact it into bales for transport to a MRF (material recovery facility), sometimes located several hundred miles away. At the MRF the bales are broken open and the now compacted material must be sorted into marketable categories.
Mixing and processing materials in this fashion leads to a great deal of cross contamination. Anywhere from 6% to 30% of recyclables collected by single stream programs is landfilled because of the high contamination rates.
The other issue is the end use of material that is recovered. Paper mills recycle paper, not glass, and steel mills don’t want plastic in their mix. Mills cannot deal with the unexpected maintenance and down time that result from cross-contamination. For example, glass, steel, plastic bags and laundry detergent cause problems for paper mills by clogging up and damaging equipment. Mills can refuse contaminated material or simply pass the added costs of transportation, de-contamination or trash-disposal back to the recycling program, making collection less economically feasible.
Curbside recycling customers in the City of Grand Junction are asked to sort materials into five categories:
3. Corrugated cardboard
5. Steel (tin) and aluminum cans with #1, #2 & #5 Plastic containers (small household containers only.)
We’ve always kept our steel and aluminum separate. I’ve heard we can mix them together with our plastics now. Is this true?
Yes, you can now co-mingle plastics #1, #2, and #5 with your steel and aluminum cans. Over the years we have upgraded and fine tuned our container sorting process and equipment; allowing for plastics and metals to be mixed together. Plastics are sorted out of the mix by hand and a series of magnets, blowers and conveyor belts assist with the separation of steel and aluminum cans.