Recycling Dumpster Contents
Contrary to popular belief, trash that is collected in dumpsters isn’t simply collected and then dumped into local landfills. Like the vast majority of dumpster companies, our company recycles as many of the materials that we collect as possible. This is good practice not only for environmental reasons but because it allows us to make the most of the materials that we collect. Thanks to single-stream recycling, which is readily available in most major markets, the process is a lot easier than you probably suspect.
So, what happens to the trash that goes into dumpsters? How is it recycled? What is it made into later? Read on to learn more.
Why Recycle Dumpster Contents?
In the old days, dumpsters were typically collected when filled, and then their contents were added to local landfills. As recycling became more accessible, affordable and effective, however, dumpster companies started recycling as many materials as they could. In addition to helping to protect the environment, recycling dumpster materials can be fairly profitable, and it allows companies like ours to keep costs in line more easily.
The Single-Stream Recycling Process
Depending on where you live, your local community may require you to separate materials into different bins for recycling. Needless to say, this isn’t a practical way to recycle the contents of dumpsters, which are typically made up of a combination of materials and refuse. Fortunately, single-stream recycling is now available, and it has revolutionized the way in which we recycle.
Single-stream recycling is more convenient for everyone involved, including the trucks that collect recyclable materials. Instead of completing separate routes for different materials, they can collect everything in a single trip. This saves fuel and causes less pollution, so it’s a win-win situation.
In single-stream recycling, materials are collected and taken to a Materials Recovery Facility, or MRF. All materials start out together and are placed on a conveyor belt. Down the line, a v-screen separator pulls paper materials out. Heavier materials like metal, glass and plastic drop down onto another belt below. Meanwhile, the paper is bundled and sent to a paper mill.
Next, huge magnets pull ferrous metals like iron, steel and tin from the belt and into bins. Non-ferrous metals like aluminum continue on with glass and plastic materials. All of these materials are processed through an eddy current rotor that produces strong fields of energy around non-magnetic materials. As a result, aluminum and other non-ferrous metals are sent into another bin.
The plastic and glass continue along to an optical scanning system that detects plastic and pushes it into yet another bin. All that is left now is glass, which is poured into one final bin.
What Happens Next?
Thanks to single-stream recycling, a dumpster full of trash can easily be processed to pull away recyclable materials. Of course, the process doesn’t end there. After being collected, the recyclable materials must be processed so that they can be turned into new materials and products. What happens to them varies depending on the material in question:
- Paper and Cardboard – Most paper and cardboard materials are sent to paper mills. A chemical washing process separates ink from paper fibers, and a machine called a slusher turns the paper into pulp. A detergent then pulls and carries the ink away. Screens sift away contaminants. The pulp is then bleached and mixed with wood chip pulp to make it stronger. Excess moisture is drained, leaving behind fairly solid material that can be lifted away. It’s then placed into steam-heated rollers. Newspaper often ends up as gift wrap or more newspaper. Cardboard typically is made into paper bags or cardboard box components.
- Tin – Despite what many people think, tin cans contain very little actual tin. They are mostly made out of steel. After being collected and sorted, tin is sent to a dealer or a de-tinning plant. De-tinning solution is poured through the cans. Electrical and chemical processes then purify, separate and recover tin and steel. After the tin is dissolved from the steel, the steel is sold to steel mills. Liquid with the tin is filtered to remove contaminants and treated to remove other metals. Finally, the tin is formed, melted off and then cast into ingots.
- Glass – Glass is recycled according to color, so once enough of one color of glass is collected, it is sold to glass plants or dealers. At the glass plant, the processing system breaks the glass up into tiny pieces. Vacuums, screens and magnets then pull away metal, plastic, caps, labels and other debris. The glass is then blended with soda ash, silica sand and limestone before being placed in a furnace. After being turned into molten glass, it can be re-manufactured into new glass products.
- Aluminum – Aluminum is most commonly sold to recyclers and scrap metal dealers. It may be processed domestically or abroad, where there is a huge market. The producer or smelter then shreds or grinds the aluminum into tiny chips. These chips are then melted and cast to become ingots. Those ingots are then sent to manufacturing plants where they are rolled into sheets of aluminum. The aluminum may then be used to make car bodies and other products.
- Plastic – There are many types of plastic. Some types contain resins that are not compatible with the recycling process. Plastics that can be recycled are typically baled, shredded or chipped before being sent to a reprocessing plant. There, the resins are melted and made into new products. Most commonly, recycled plastic is used to make car parts, molded products, toys and even carpet backing.
As you can see, the story of the materials that are thrown into dumpsters doesn’t end when they are hauled away. Through a series of incredible technologies and processes, they are sorted, processed and then made into new products. In this way, dumpster companies like ours do our part to help the environment. The next time you toss a recyclable material into a dumpster, then, you can rest easy in the knowledge that it will very likely be turned into something useful someday.