A Field Trip to Cascade Recycling Center

This week the Nomads took another edu-taining field trip, this time to Cascade Recycling Center in Woodenville, WA.  Cascade is Waste Management’s sorting facility, where the contents of many Seattle recycling bins go.  The facility operates 20 hours a day, which means they sort over 150,000 tons of material a year!

10,000 of these, for those of you on the metric system.

Three things determine whether or not something is recyclable:

- The Material it’s made of
- Its Sortability
- What kind of Markets exist for it (changing markets are essentially the reason “what is recyclable” changes so often)

The materials are sorted in this order:

Pre-sorting: Here they remove un-recyclable materials like wires, phone books, black plastic bags, scrap metal, and pants.  Yes, we saw them take out some pants.

“Ooh, corduroy!”

Paper: Large rotary wheels separate 2-dimensional paper and cardboard from 3-dimensional items like cans and bottles.  Then a “paper magnet,” basically a spiky suction device, picks up the pieces.

Pictured somewhere on the left here: the paper magnet.

Glass: Glass is smashed and vacuumed clean.  This leaves a lot of labels still on the bottles, but those burn off when the glass is re-melted.

There’s some glass in there somewhere.

Magnetic metals, such as tin: Magnets, need we say more?

Plastics: These are sorted by hand, oh and also by frickin’ lasers.  They shoot a laser capable of identifying polyethylene terephthalate, the common plastic indicated by the number “1″ inside the recycling symbol, at the conveyor belt, then use a puff of air to shoot the correct items into a bin.

Oh.  My.  God.

Aluminum: Since aluminum is not magnetic, they use a “reverse magnet” to repel the cans and such off the conveyor belt.

Like this, but opposite.

Then they run anything left over through the system again, which is why they have a 95% recycling rate.

The materials are then bundled and sold to various recycling plants.

As Willustrated here.

What a fantastic time we had learning about recycling!  Where shall we go next?

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