Got milk jugs?

What's old becomes new again when waste is recycled

What's old becomes new again when waste is recycled

January 14, 2008|By JULIE E. GREENE

Think it's a trek to take your recycling to the curb or the local drop-off center?

That trip is just a short leg in the life of that paper, plastic, glass, aluminum or steel item. In fact, it might have already been reused before coming into its current form.

From there it goes through several facilities to be sorted, broken down, and turned into items you might find in your own home: carpet, shampoo bottles, beverage containers and newspaper.

The benefits of recycling include extending the life of landfills, saving energy and reducing water usage and air pollution. Recycling also provices resources that can be used to create new materials, Washington County Recycling Coordinator Harvey Hoch said.


From 2006 to 2007, the City of Hagerstown experienced an 18 percent increase in the amount of commingled material and paper picked up through its curbside residential recycling program, according to data from City Engineer Rodney Tissue. The amount of paper picked up increased from about 634 tons to more than 684 tons and commingled metal, plastic and glass increased from about 118 tons to almost 206 tons.

Here's a look at what happens to recyclables after they are set out at the curb.

Leaving the curb

Paper and commingled materials recycled through Hagerstown, Williamsport and Washington County programs get picked up by Allied Waste, formerly BFI.

For curbside pickup, Allied Waste uses what looks like a garbage truck. The back of the truck is split into two sections, one for paper and one for commingled products.

The materials are taken to Allied's Hagerstown recyclery on Md. 63 west of Hagerstown, where they are weighed and shipped to various companies that further sort recyclables and send material to other companies for reuse, said David Langas, general manager for Allied Waste. Material usually only remains at the facility for a day or two before being shipped.


Allied Waste sends commingled recyclables - plastic, glass, and aluminum and steel cans - to either Recycle America near Washington, D.C., or to Capitol Fiber Inc. in Springfield, Va.

At Capitol Fiber, the mixed recyclables go through a sci-fi-like experience to separate glass, plastic, aluminum and steel.

The material goes on a conveyor belt and through a large steel tube, called a trommel, that spins. As the trommel spins, broken glass falls through holes in the tube.

The trommel is spun by a chain with bar magnets on it. The magnets attract the steel and then a demagnetized portion of the trommel drops the steel onto another conveyor.

Then the conveyor belt passes over a blower that blasts lightweight plastics onto a sizing screen. Heavyweight glass, such as beer bottles, drops onto a conveyor for glass.

The aluminum cans and plastics remaining on the main conveyor go to a sizing screen that separates large plastic bottles such as milk jugs from small plastic bottles and aluminum cans, the latter two of which fall through the screen. Then the conveyor passes over an eddy current - a magnet that repels the aluminum, which is blown into a silo.

The plastics all go to the same station, where they are sorted by hand into the seven types of recyclable plastic.


Many plastics are marked with a triangle and a number so consumers know what type of plastic they are. Capitol Fiber is interested in types one and two; the rest are baled and sent to two other recyclable processors.

Number one plastics are polyethylene terephthalate, which Capitol Fiber sells to Mohawk, a company that uses the plastic to make carpeting. Polyethylene terephthalate also is often used to make fleecewear, said Jim Langemeier, general manager for Capitol Fiber.

Number two plastics are high-density polyethylene, which include milk jugs and colored detergent bottles.

Because milk jugs are unpigmented, they can be made into more things, even repelletized and made back into milk jugs or turned into detergent bottles.

Capitol Fiber sends its colored high-density polyethylene bottles to Graham Recycling, which turns them into shampoo or conditioner bottles, juice containers and other items, Langemeier said. When the colored plastics are mixed, they become gray, or they are dyed black.


Capitol Fiber sells aluminum cans to Anheuser-Busch, which melts the aluminum to make cans for items such as beer, cola and tea, Langemeier said.


Capitol Fiber sends glass to another processor to sort.

Langemeier said Capitol Fiber expects to buy equipment so this spring it can begin crushing glass into a gravel substitute for drainage used in culverts and retaining wall backfill.

The company will end up giving the glass aggregate away to construction companies and builders. Capitol Fiber doesn't have enough glass to make it valuable enough to sell, Langemeier said, and there isn't enough competition among glass production companies to drive the purchase price for recycled glass high enough to make it worth selling.


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