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Learning How Recycling Works by antoniosimeone4 Learning How Recycling Works by antoniosimeone4
I don't know about you, but I take recycling for granted. You finish your drink, and you just toss the plastic bottle into a bin marked "Recycling". Then, something happens to it, and you're told it's good for the environment, and then you feel good because you're saving the planet in your own small way by not throwing that bottle into the garbage. But how does recycling really work? What happens to that plastic, or that can, or that piece of paper I toss into that little bin with the arrows on it? Recycling is, basically, the process of collecting waste materials and breaking them down into building blocks that can be turned into new products. Since each material is made of different things, it needs to be broken down in its own way. Paper, for instance, becomes wood fibres, but glass is just crushed into tiny pieces.

And, since 1973, scientists and engineers have been working on the best ways to separate clean and processed recyclables at "Material Recovery Facilities". They're also known as "MRFs", for short, which is a much more awesome and fun name that we will be using from now on. There are, typically, two kinds of MRFs: "Single Stream Recycling Plants" and "Dual Stream Recycling Plants". Dual Stream Recycling means that the curb-side bins are split into two categories:"Mixed Paper" and "Everything Else". These two categories are kept separate in the truck, dumped into two separate piles, and offloaded onto two separate conveyor belts.

Single Stream Recycling, on the other hand, means exactly that. Everything is thrown into the same recycling bin and sorted later by a combination of people and high-tech machines. Less than half of all Material Recovery Facilities use this method, but that number is growing. So here's how it works: almost anything can be recycled, but some materials, like computers, batteries and light bulbs are too complex, too large, or contain too many toxins, to properly recycle at any given MRF.

If they show up in the recycling pile, they're either thrown away or taken to different, specialised facilities. Single Stream Recycling focuses on five different kinds of waste: Paper, steel, glass, aluminium, and plastic. As they make their way through the plant, each of these materials is separated from the mixture, and is processed. The paper and the cardboard come first, thanks to a series of rubber, star-shaped wheels called "Rotary Screen Separators" (learn here eddy current separator). With the help of blown air pushing them along, the cardboard and paper ride the wheels at a 45° incline, up to a higher conveyor belt, while the more three-dimensional, heavier objects, like containers and bottles, fall through the gaps in the wheels and land back on the main conveyor belt.
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Submitted on
May 23, 2016
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