Go Recycle | Your Washington Area Resource for Recycling Information

Where Do Materials Go?

Items put out for recycling traditionally have been sorted by type of material. As recycling has evolved, new technologies have allowed for less sorting of items and more mixing of materials. A typical collection system allows all paper grades to be mixed together in one sort and all plastic bottles, glass, and metal cans to be put together in a second group. This dual-stream system usually requires two collection trucks, one for each group of materials.

A new sorting technology called single stream is now available in some parts of the Washington metropolitan area. It allows ALL paper, plastic bottles, glass containers and metal cans to be included in a single sort for recycling. One truck collects these materials. It can sometimes be confusing to see a single truck collecting this material because the same style of compaction trucks used for trash collection are often used to collect single stream recyclables. If you have questions about how materials are collected in your jurisdiction, consult the local government page for contact information.

Once items are collected from a business or a residence, trucks deliver them to a local Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Several government and privately-owned or operated MRFs serve the region. paper sort line Paper is sorted into news, corrugated cardboard, and other grades as demanded by paper mills. A combination of machinery and workers separate the paper as it winds through a sorting line. At the end of the line, a clean paper sort is baled up for shipment to manufacturing plants.

Plastic, glass and metal containers are put through processing equipment to separate them by type. The plastic and metal items are baled up for market. Plastic products may go to additional plants for further sorting by resin grade. Glass is crushed and sent for additional processing depending on the end use. To learn more, watch this short video of the Waste Management Recycle America Elkridge, MD, single stream MRF in action. plastic sort

Images courtesy of Prince George County Material Recovery Facility and Waste Management Recycle America