Apr 192009
Authors: Erin Smith

The moment an aluminum can leaves your fingertips and careens into the depths of a recycling bin, it is out of sight and out of mind./But it does not just disappear; it instead embarks on cross-state journey to be reborn into something new./

In 2008, CSU collected an average of 35,000 pounds of recyclables per week Sheela Backen, operations manager for CSU Recycling and Integrated Solid Waste, said.

That number represents a massive pile of aluminum cans and other materials, and eventually all those pounds of CSU recyclables will be reincarnated. First, however, they go to a single stream processing plant owned by the national company Waste Management in Denver./

CSU introduced a single-stream recycling system on campus for the first time this semester, meaning that all recyclable materials, including that aluminum can, can be tossed into the same bin without the need to sort them, said Aaron Briscoe, equipment operator for CSU Recycling and Integrated Solid Waste Services.

Backen said that after a can is recycled on campus, it will wait inside the bin until it is emptied and taken to the recycling areas outside of campus buildings. From there scheduled trucks that cart all recyclables to the recycling center at Larimer County Landfill will pick it up.

“We have compactors there to pack as much in as possible,” said Rose Watson, environmental educator for Larimer County Solid Waste Department, in describing the process./

From there, the recycling center packs trucks to the brim with Larimer County recycling matter and hauls it to the northeast industrial regions of Denver, where Waste Management’s recycling plant resides./

“Waste Management process about 600 tons of recyclables here a day,” said Melissa Kolwaite, communicationsmanager for Waste Management as she stands before a mountain of recyclables weighing almost just that./

The mountain range of glass, plastic, paper and other recyclables stretches across the entrance of the plant on a cement lot outside./Trucks unload recyclables from all across Colorado’s Front Range to contribute to the pile, and plows push the trash inside to the single stream sorting equipment and onto a conveyer belt. /

The facility is lined with tall cube stacks of glinting tin cans and plastic bottles with multicolored labels still sticking to their shapely bodies./

Eventually the cube spires will be loaded on to train cars that snake along the back of the building to be taken away to second or third party processors who will actually turn the materials back into useable products./

After a steep climb on the conveyer belt, the loose recyclables begin the cubing process./Cardboard and paper get singled out first./The belt takes recyclables directly into a series of mills that use the light weight of the paper and board to float up and over the heavier materials./

Waste Management processes more paper than anything else — 7,000 tons a month — Kolwaite said./ At this stage it drops onto another conveyer belt to be hand sorted by employees of the plant. /

Employees pick out non-recyclables and materials that don’t belong as the papers whiz by. Workers pull out stuffed animals, mattress parts and unidentifiable remnants of what is described by Kolwaite as trash./

“People try to recycle everything. Someone once turned in a stroller,” Kolwaite said, describing a problem that Watson said costs labor, time and energy at almost every stage of the recycling process./ Watson said it is a lot of work to sort out contaminates that don’t belong in the recycling bin./

The paper and cardboard sorting ends when the materials are dumped via conveyer belt into a compacter that makes them into large cubes about the size of an armchair./

In the course of a one-hour visit, five of the cubes are produced./

The glass, aluminum and plastic ride further back into the facility, but first the glass is sorted out using a computerized “eye.”

The “eye,” a sensor that can read the density of materials running past it, is a rod of small spotlights and the computer inside puffs jets of air to direct the corresponding materials to their chutes, letting the glass fall below another conveyer belt./

At this point, all recyclables have been separated in their own conveyer belts and are streaking by employees who, again, stand on the line, picking out what does not belong./ At the end of the line, each material gets compacted into a cube, much like the paper./ /

From Waste Management’s facility, the recycling process does not end, and after being shipped off to be further processed, the materials are made into new products./

“An aluminum can be back on the shelf as a new beverage in as early as 60 days,” Kolwaite said./

Staff reporter Erin Smith can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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