The Journey of Waste

What happens to your recyclables when you dispose of them? How does recycling REALLY work?

Paper:

Paper that is dropped in a recycling bin at Tufts is collected and brought to a Materials Recovery Facility in Charlestown, MA. Then, it is sent to the Visy Paper Mill in Staten Island, NY, where it is separated into types and grades with other recycled paper products. The separated pieces of paper are then washed with soapy water to get rid of inks, plastic film, staples, glue and anything else that might be stuck to them. The resulting watery mixture is called “slurry.”

A worker stacks cardboard in the Visy Paper Mill. Via Silive.com.

Other materials are added to the slurry, depending on what kind of paper product (cardboard, printer paper, newsprint) is being created. It is then spread into sheets, allowed time to dry and rolled back up. Finally, it is resold as recycled paper products.

Alternatively, some paper products from Tufts are sent to RockTenn, a facility in Solvay, NY, where they are made into cardboard.

Plastic:

Plastic recyclables are brought to a recycling facility in the Bronx, NY, called Monteleone Fibres. Then the plastic is ground into small chips, usually mixed with bits of labels, food scraps and other non-plastic parts. To eliminate these parts, the  pieces are washed in a bath, dried and melted. The resulting melted, small plastic pieces, which are considered the “raw material” of plastic, are called “nurdles.”

Nurdles

Nurdles, AKA tiny bits of plastic material, from Kamilo Beach, HI. Via nurdleintherough.org

Companies can buy nurdles to make various recycled products, but many products made from virgin plastics cannot be made out of recycled ones. Nonetheless, recycling plastic can certainly reduce the demand for other resources.

Unfortunately, these small particles make up a large portion of the pollutants found in the world’s oceans. For this reason, reducing plastic consumption by drinking from reusable water bottles, using reusable bags, reusing plastic Tupperware and taking other initiatives is more impactful than recycling new plastic.

 

Glass:

When glass is thrown into a recycling bin at Tufts, it must be sorted from metals and plastics, since Tufts uses a single-stream waste system. It is then taken to a glass treatment plant, sorted by color and washed. Then the glass is crushed, melted and crafted into new products. These include bottles, jars, bricks or decorations.  It is then resold, and can be recycled infinitely because it does not degrade during the recycling process!

Man collects bottles outside bottle deposit center in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

A reusable beverage container collection point in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Via Vladimir Menkov.

Some countries in Western Europe have implemented container-deposit legislation. Under this policy, consumers may return beverage containers to a redemption center and receive money back–generally more than a five cent refund. The bottles that are returned are then washed, screened for contaminants and used again as beverage containers. This system is more energy-efficient than recycling because it does not require breaking down and reshaping the material.

 

Metal:

Cans are sent to NH Kelman, a facility in Troy, NY. Some plastics are also sent here. For more information, see Life of a Soda Can.

 

Food Waste:

Food waste from Carmichael, Dewick, zero-waste events and the dorms is all composted. Once the food scraps from events and dorms are collected by Tufts’ compost collection provider, it is sent to Rocky Hill Farm and other nearby locations.  There, the materials are broken down by microorganisms in the presence of oxygen.