Is the stuff I'm recycling heading for the dump?
March 28, 2007 6:34 PM   Subscribe

How do I know if my stuff is actually being recycled?

So here's the deal: I live in an apartment in Montreal. Our recycling system consists of two green bins, into which any and all recyclable materials are placed. The glass, plastic, paper and aluminum are all mixed together.

Is this still sucessfully recycled? In the past, people have told be that in order for stuff to be sucessfully recycled, it has to be very carefully separated - plastics into their special subgroups and so on.

Is this actually true? Is my stuff just getting sent to the dump?
posted by fermezporte to Grab Bag (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The need to separate or not depends on the system used by the organization that picks up your recyclables. When I lived in San Diego, the city provided a single curb-side "supercan" for all recyclables, and the city did the sorting. This page explains how San Diego separates the different types of items and what happens to it. Many places use similar systems.
posted by Robert Angelo at 6:44 PM on March 28, 2007

I think people are so bad at sorting their own recycleables that it's easier to sort them centrally using fancy industrial machines. Especially since then they don't need to keep the categories separated in transit.
posted by smackfu at 6:48 PM on March 28, 2007

Best answer: The San Francisco facility is called Recycle Central:
Inside RECYCLE CENTRAL® spinning disk screens send bottles and cans in one direction, float paper in another and further sort it into independent streams of newsprint and mixed paper (magazines, cardboard and junk mail). A giant vacuum system sucks computer paper, envelopes and letterhead off conveyer belts and automatically sends clean material to baling machines. A powerful magnet pulls steel and tin cans off the sorting belt and flips them into a large storage cage. Aluminum cans fly off the belt as if by magic thanks to another machine called an eddy current separator.
posted by smackfu at 6:52 PM on March 28, 2007

Yes, it's getting recycled.

My area just instituted mandatory recycling. The reason is because from 2008 the local council gets fined massive amounts for each ton of garbage over a certain quota. As well as avoiding the fine, the council has come to a commercial arrangement with a company where they drive the trash trucks up (they alternate each week between trash and recyclable) and the council gets paid for each ton of recyclable material delivered. Since they're getting PAID for this stuff, it's inconceivable that the company involved is trashing it ;-)

An interesting side effect of all of this is that they have totally bizarre requirements on what you can actually put in for recycling. Plastic bags aren't accepted, nor are several other types of plastic.. only things with a recycling logo with "1" in the middle are okay for plastic. Glass isn't accepted.. things like that. The council say this is because they won't get paid for them!!
posted by wackybrit at 6:54 PM on March 28, 2007

Here is one answer. It's from the tv show Dirty Jobs. It comes on after MythBusters sometimes.
posted by snsranch at 6:57 PM on March 28, 2007

You know your recyclables are at least getting sorted because you will occasionnaly see job postings on for sorters at reclycling centers, for the city of Montréal.

It was slightly uncomfortable to discover it's a minimum wage position. It's stinky stinky work, and you don't get any exercise like the garbage men do.
posted by gmarceau at 7:25 PM on March 28, 2007

Can you take it to the recycling center yourself? At least then you know that it's getting there.

Around here we have problems with people driving around and taking everything in curbside recycling bins. (Digging in trash is one thing, but stealing the recyclable items is actually a crime here.)

See if the recycling center folks will give you a tour. Our local center is happy to give people the $0.05 tour.
posted by drstein at 7:26 PM on March 28, 2007

Best answer: Apparently whether you need to separate the stuff yourself depends on the recycling service used by your borough. I used to have to separate my stuff at my old address, but I don't have to do so where I live now.

Montreal recently signed a ten-year contract for recycling household materials with a company that employs people with mild intellectual handicaps.

You could visit the Saint-Michel Environmental Complex and see that it's being done.
posted by zadcat at 8:18 PM on March 28, 2007

Our grocery store co-op asked the same question a few months ago, and the result was this well researched article in the newsletter (page nine) about how recycling in St. Lawrence County New York is handled. We also use two bins for curbside pickup, and all plastics, glass and metal are thrown together in one bin, then sorted at a Material Recovery Station.
posted by saffry at 8:25 PM on March 28, 2007

At the computer lab where I used to work, we had a trash can for paper that was labeled "Recycled." My boss told me that they simply threw it all away with the regular trash. So yeah, it happens.
posted by JPowers at 10:04 PM on March 28, 2007

BusinessWeek had an article a few years back called Italy and the Eco-Mafia.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:55 PM on March 28, 2007

Perhaps, perhaps not.
posted by caddis at 7:53 AM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone! (This is my first AskMe, and everyone's answer was great!)
posted by fermezporte at 10:24 AM on March 29, 2007

Wow, saffry, I used to belong to that co-op many years ago -- glad to see they're still around (I went to Clarkson).
posted by bwanabetty at 8:06 PM on March 29, 2007

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