Working With Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs) to Improve Glass, Plastics, and Aluminum RecyclingPrint
Materials recovery facilities (MRFs) keep recyclables — including, of course, glass, plastics, and aluminum — out of landfills and put them back into circulation using a fraction of the energy required to make new goods. These eco-friendly centers are a marvel of technology, environmentalism, and collective effort. With Earth Day earlier this week, let's take a look at how MRFs are saving the planet — and how you can help, whether you operate your own MRF or simply wish to be a better recycler in your own home or business.
There are two basic types of MRFs: clean and dirty.
Clean MRFs accept only recyclable materials. The materials may arrive at the center separated or in a single stream, which is sorted using magnets, vibration, and manual picking. When sorting is required, MRFs benefit from using hydraulic lifting devices, such as Bin Tippers, to load unsorted materials onto tables (and to dump sorted materials into their final collection point).
Dirty MRFs accept a mixed waste stream, which is then sorted, either manually and mechanically (again, with advantages from Bin Tippers). These facilities require more infrastructure but address the problem of low recycling-program participation by doing the grunt work of separating recyclables from landfill trash.
Dirty MRFs can divert many tons of aluminum, glass, and plastic from landfills, which has both environmental and financial benefits. But, of course, there are differences between these three major categories of domestic recyclables:
This metal is highly profitable, as it can be recycled over and over while retaining its properties. While most American communities have access to aluminum recycling facilities, nearly $1 billion worth of aluminum cans are sent to landfills every year.
On the bright side, Americans recycle around 65 percent of aluminum, which supports 161,000 jobs in the economy. Of course, there's still room for improvement, but that high participation rate allows manufacturers to use 95 percent less energy by using recycled aluminum instead of mining new ore.
Like aluminum, glass can be recycled endlessly without diminishing the quality. Environmental benefits of recycled glass include reduced emissions and reduced consumption of raw materials. Even when recycled glass has too much contamination to become a new glass container, it can be used in tile, concrete pavements, and parking lots.
Container and fiberglass industries purchase three million tons of recycled glass every year. This enormous volume is the result of high participation in curbside and drop-off glass recycling programs. Bottle bills that pay consumers five or ten cents per returned bottle help increase participation rates in many states.
Recycling plastics can be confusing due to the many different types of bottles and containers. Considering that it takes up to 1,000 years for a plastic bottle to degrade in a landfill, it's worth figuring out what can and can't be recycled.
To determine if a plastic item can be recycled, check the number inside the recycling logo. For most jurisdictions, three (polyvinyl chloride) and five (polypropylene) cannot be recycled. Many recycling centers also do not accept number 7 plastics, which frequently contain BPA. To know for sure which plastics your local program accepts, check their website.
Economic Opportunities in Recycling
Of course, recycling helps the planet, but it's also great for the economy. The $200 billion industry generates up to 10 times more jobs than landfills. If you're interested in starting a recycling center, funding may be available to help you get started.
You can browse federal grants or check your state's department for environmental protection for more funding opportunities. Local recycling nonprofits can offer even more information on equipment grants for startups.
Starting a recycling program creates a boost for the local economy, allows residents to participate in saving the planet, and provides energy-efficient materials for manufacturers.
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"Recycling." Aluminum. The Aluminum Association, n.d. Web. 26. Feb. 2018.
"Recycling Facts." RecycleAcrossAmerica. Recycle Across America, 2018. Web. 26 Feb. 2018.