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How Single Stream Recycling Works

Today the ocean is already an unwilling host to more than 165 million tons of plastic and studies by major research firms supported by the World Economic Forum predict that by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans. This should give us pause. A world without healthy oceans is simply not sustainable.

The state of Florida wants to achieve a 75% recycling rate by the year 2024 but is currently falling way short of that goal. But Americans are among the world’s worst recycling contaminators and our area is no exception. Florida experiences an average of 30 percent contamination in curbside and residential recycling statewide and adds $100 million in annual costs.

In all three Treasure Coast Counties, the challenges are similar. The biggest offender is food contamination- oil-laden pizza boxes, and unwashed plastic containers and cans. Next up are plastic bags, plastic wrappings, and Styrofoam. Add things like hoses, electronics, cords, clothing, and the occasional bowling ball or something silly like that, and you wind up with a whole lot of garbage that is not only not recyclable, but also jams and breaks sorting machines, causes injury to workers and ruins entire loads of good recyclables.

So, let’s look at an overview of how single stream recycling really works. Also known as co-mingled recycling, this relatively new process relieves people from having to separate items by material type at the initial collection site, meaning your neighborhood collection container or your curbside carts. Refuse is then brought to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) where it is sorted. This is done with a combination of human workers and clever machinery that handle the separation process as follows:

  • All material is unloaded and placed on a conveyor.

  • Non-recyclable items are manually sorted and removed by workers.

  • The material moves to a triple-deck screen.

  • Items too heavy or light, such as cardboard, containers, and paper, are removed.

  • Heavier containers drop to the bottom level, while lighter items head to the second level.

  • Another screen breaks glass containers for the safety and convenience of the workers.

  • The remaining material passes under a powerful magnet to remove tin and steel cans.

  • All the while, staff must monitor for specific commodities that may still have passed through.

  • A reverse magnet www.ircrecycles.comcalled an "eddy current" causes aluminum to fly off the conveyor and into a bin.

  • Workers separate cardboard, newsprint, and office paper, and drop each piece into a bunker below.

  • Once all the material is separated, it's baled and shipped to recycling companies for processing.

The concept of single stream recycling should, in a perfect world, work well. Of course, it’s not a perfect world but that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. Do your part by practicing the four Rs. RETHINK the consequences your action or inaction will have on the planet and REDUCE your consumption of disposables. REUSE by considering new purposes for products you already have, and, most importantly, RECYCLE according to the guidelines.

For more information about Single Stream Recycling on the Treasure Coast, visit the following websites:


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