Recycling means using a product over again. My goal in this article is to simply describe processes to make recycled material ready to be used again. Most of the developed world has embraced recycling of familiar products like plastic, tin cans, newspaper, glass and aluminum cans. Still controversy arises when it is pointed out that the expense to collect, sort and process products for recycling is more than the cost to transport products to a landfill. Recycling is popular in the United States because massive amounts of trash are kept out of landfills, millions of people are employed to recycle and less energy is used to create products than if new, virgin raw materials are used. Statistics reveal the United States produces enough trash to fill 1,000 football fields 30 stories high each year. If all the Sunday newspapers in the country were recycled each week 500,000 fewer trees would be needed to produce newsprint.
What happens to our household recyclable items we take to the curb or drop off at a county transfer station? Roseann Himes from the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities informs me recyclable items collected on rubbish collection days are sold under contract to a massive recycling facility (MRF) in Jamestown where they are compacted, baled and sold to other markets in the United States and overseas for processing. Collection of recyclables by the city does not pay for itself but in my opinion is a valuable service for those who want to conserve resources.
Paper and glass recycling processes are straight-forward. Paper from newspapers and magazines is mixed with water and washed with detergents to remove printer's ink. The mixture is run on conveyor belts, passed through rollers to squeeze out water then finally dried on additional heated rollers and wound on a reel. Recycled paper can be used to make more newsprint, insulation and toilet tissue. Paper is usually recycled only once because paper fibers break down, becoming shorter and creating a weak, brittle paper. Glass is sorted by color, crushed and may be used for road paving or melted and made into glass bottles and fiberglass insulation.
Baled plastic bottles and jugs in the foreground and baled newspaper in the background await shipment from this Jamestown facility to specialized processing centers.
Photo by Robert M. Ungerer
The ubiquitous tin can is primarily steel since new technology has eliminated the tin coating previously used to prevent corrosion; therefore, cans can be melted and used for construction equipment and motor vehicles.
Since New York and other states instituted the deposit on aluminum beverage cans, 95 percent are recycled, so almost none are found in landfills or along roadsides. Cans taken to redemption centers or grocery stores are not refilled but are shredded, heated to remove painted labels and passed over a screen to allow dirt to fall through. The shredded aluminum is melted in a furnace then poured into long flat molds creating sheets weighing 20 times the weight of an automobile. The sheets are placed through successive rollers until the sheet is one-quarter inch thick and can be rolled into a huge coil of pure aluminum later purchased by companies to create new cans, airplane parts, motor vehicle engines and aluminum foil. Aluminum can be recycled forever.
Recycling plastics poses significant challenges due to the variety of colors and numerous types. Common plastics used to bottle soft drinks, water, salad dressing and fruit juice are classified number 1, PETE (polyethylene terephthalete) labeled on the bottom of the container, while milk jugs, shampoo and sunscreen bottles are classified number 2, HDPE (high density Polyethylene). Each class of plastic differs in melting temperature; therefore if dissimilar types are mixed, melted and stirred, each type separates during cooling like water from oil. This plastic mixture will be weak and friable. To eliminate this problem, devices separate plastic by type and color before melting.
In communities where recyclables are collected together, called ''zero sort,'' material recovery facilities separate metal cans with magnets and specific plastic types sometimes by density.
Recycling in Jamestown is already paid for through taxes and elsewhere by annual rubbish fees so if you do not already participate, join the crowd. You will feel better helping the environment.