When your recyclables arrive at the Materials Recovery Facility, they are dumped, or “tipped,” onto the tipping floor.
A Materials Recovery Facility is also called a MRF, pronounced “merf.”
This MRF is a single-stream facility. That means that all the recyclables are mixed together – paper, glass, plastic, steel, aluminum, cardboard and paperboard.
Dual-stream facilities tip paper in one place and the other materials in another. They are sorted on separate lines, requiring more space and manpower.
The recyclables are pushed onto a conveyor belt. The conveyor is built below the floor, just in front of the wall.
The conveyor belt takes the recyclables to the sort line where the materials are sorted by hand and by machine.
The conveyor belt is inclined to take the recyclables up to an elevated platform. This is what the recyclables look like when they come to the top of the conveyor belt, right before they go on the sort line.
When all the recyclables are mixed together like this, they are called commingled.
At the first section of the sort line, workers separate the paper, paperboard and cardboard from the other materials. They throw the paper materials into the chutes on either side of them.
Paper that did not get separated by the sorters will be screened out from the rest of the materials on this machine.
The paper, which is lighter, “walks up” either side of the teal “V” and falls onto conveyor belts below. You can see one of the conveyors below the left side of the “V.” There is another conveyor below the right side.
The other materials, which are heavier, fall onto a third conveyor belt below the machine.
The bottom conveyor belt takes the plastic, glass, steel and aluminum to a pile outside. We’ll see how those materials are separated in a minute.
This is a view from the other side of the “V.” From this view you can see the red conveyor belt that the paper is falling onto.
At the far end of the conveyor you can see another worker sorting any plastic or metal that ended up on the paper belt.
There is another worker on the other side doing the same thing.
This is the last part of the sort line before the paper is dumped into a huge pile.
The workers are checking one last time to make sure that no glass, plastic, aluminum or steel is mixed in with the paper.
When the paper is baled, it cannot contain any of the other commingled materials.
This is the huge pile of paper. The paper that was just checked by the workers is falling into this pile via the conveyor belt.
From here it will be pushed to the baler – the machine that will compact it into rectangular bales and tie it together with baling wire.
This is the baler. It has compacted the loose paper into huge rectangular bales. The bales keep their shape because they are tied with baling wire.
From here, the bales will be stacked together until there is enough to fill the trailer of an 18-wheeler.
These are stacks of baled paper. When there are enough bales to fill a trailer of an 18-wheeler, the bales will be loaded and transported to a processor.
The processor will make new paper out of the recycled paper!
While paper was being recovered in the first phase of single-stream processing, this is where the other materials were going.
As the commingled materials were being separated from the paper, a conveyor was transporting it to a pile of glass, plastic, aluminum and steel.
This material will be pushed onto the commingled sort line.
On the commingled sort line, workers separate the materials into different groups.
The glass is separated into brown glass, clear glass, green glass and other colors.
The plastics are separated into #1 plastics, #2 plastic milk jugs, and #2 colored plastics.
The #3, #4, #5 and #7 plastics are grouped together.
This worker is separating the glass into the three colors: clear, brown and green.
The steel is separated from the other materials by a magnet that sits above the sort line.
If you look closely, you can see the two cans that have been grabbed off the line by the magnet. The magnet rotates from left to right and drops the steel cans into a bin on the right.
You can also see the aluminum cans that remain on the line. Aluminum is not magnetic, so it travels beneath the magnet and is not picked up.
The aluminum is separated from the other materials using an eddy current.
An eddy current actually repels the non-ferrous (non-magnetic) metals and throws them from the rest of the metals from which they are being separated.
Aluminum cans and non-recyclable trash on a conveyor is run over an eddy current rotor. The spinning of the eddy current rotor creates a field of energy around non-ferrous items and these items are repelled from the rest of the material.
So the aluminum cans are “thrown” or “pushed” off the sort line into a container while the non-recyclable trash falls into a trash container below.
This is a bale of #1 PETE plastic.
This is a bale of #2 natural HDPE plastic.
These are bales of #2 colored HDPE plastic.
This is a closeup of a bale of aluminum cans.
This is a closeup of a bale of steel cans.
Do you remember, in the very first phase of the sorting process, the workers separating the cardboard and and paperboard from the rest of the recyclables?
Here is where it ended up. In a large holding area. From here it will be sent to the baler.