Baltimore County Now
Public Information Specialist, Recycling Division
“What happens to my recyclables after they are collected?” I get this question from time to time. Many people consider the process of recycling as simply putting materials out for collection and expecting them to “disappear.” However, collection is only the first step in the recycling process.
The second step in the recycling process involves processing the recyclables and turning them into marketable products. How does this happen? Well, once collected, recyclables are taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF – pronounced murf), where recyclables are placed on a series of conveyor belts and sorted multiple ways. Sorting involves screens, magnets, air currents and also manual picking. After the material is separated by type, it is then baled and prepared for pickup or shipped to manufacturers.
Recyclables are considered commodities – goods that can be sold at fluctuating prices. So, after leaving the MRF, these materials will be sold to local, regional, national and international businesses to become raw materials for new products. The materials end up in a manufacturing facility, where they are used as a substitute for virgin materials (paper for wood, aluminum cans for bauxite ore, plastics for oil, etc.).
Depending on the type of material and facility, a variety of new products are made. For example, new cans can be made out of recycled aluminum; pulverized glass can be used for a variety of construction projects; steel cans can be made into new steel cans or other steel products such as vehicles, appliances and construction material; and plastics, depending on the grade, can be made into products such as clothing, car parts, pipes, pails, lumber and pallets.
This leads to the third and final step in the recycling process, which is purchasing recycled products. Buying recycled products is a critical step for the overall recycling process because it creates and sustains a market demand for recyclables. The more recycled products consumers buy, the more manufacturers create products made from recycled materials. Without an adequate demand for recycled products, recycling would be ineffective.
So, if you have ever wondered what happens to your recyclables after collection, you may be buying them, wearing them and even driving them!
Public Information Specialist
Baltimore County Recycling Division
Baltimore County is celebrating America Recycles Day in a big way this year, with the opening of its new Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and transfer station in Cockeysville that sorts the tons of materials collected each day through the County’s very successful Single Stream Recycling Program.
The new single stream facility will definitely impress visitors as tons of recyclables travel on numerous conveyor belts and are sorted multiple ways, including the use of optical sorters that shoot blasts of air to separate bottles and cans from paper. The highly automated equipment will allow the new MRF to process 35 tons of recyclables per hour, with the capacity to sort more than 70,000 tons of recyclables per year.
Our new MRF is not just impressive to look at, but it will also allow the County to hold on to the full economic benefits of high value recyclables collected from residents. Collectively, the new transfer station and single stream MRF are expected to generate approximately $750,000 to $2 million per year revenue after expenses, depending on market conditions.
The opening is just in time to celebrate America Recycles Day, a national campaign to educate and encourage individuals to recycle. What better way to participate and show that Baltimore County recycles, than to make sure that you are recycling all that you can!