Crushed blocks of aluminum, a vat of cardboard and a tower of crumpled office paper are common sights at the Athens-Clarke County Recycling Facility.
Students from a University of Georgia sustainability club, Bag the Bag, donned bright yellow construction hats to tour the site on Wednesday, March 1.
Mason Towe, a recycling intern who led the tour, said the facility receives over 80 tons of material per-day while the local landfill receives about 300 tons per-day.
“Do the math,” Towe said. “We need to recycle more.
Towe and Suki Janssen, director of the ACC Solid Waste Department, walked students through the $2.5 million facility where incoming materials are sorted into similar groups such as two dimensional materials (cardboard and papers) and three dimensional materials (bottles, cans and containers).
A metering drum rolls over incoming recyclables to ensure material is flattened for easy sorting in the rest of the process.
Machinery such as conveyor belts, magnetization and metal cages helps to separate items into collections of steel, paper, aluminum and plastic.
“I like watching [people’s] faces when I show them the unknown facts about recycling,” Towe said.
After separation, recyclables are compressed into rectangular prism shaped bales for shipping to end markets.
“The coolest part about recycling is when they leave here and get turned into something else,” Janssen said.
Once materials are bought by end markets, they are transformed into products such as detergent bottles, aluminum cans and tissue paper.
Many of the buyers are based within the state such as Mohawk Industries, Inc., a company that makes sustainable carpet from recycled plastic.
“It’s very important because they provide Georgia jobs to people and rely on recycled material to function,” Janssen said.
UGA’s campus provides 10 percent of the facility’s recyclables, but a substantial portion of those items must be driven to a landfill due to contamination and are never recycled.
“The most frustrating thing is that people give us trash and they shouldn’t,” Janssen said. “Nobody pays attention to our message.”
Her message refers to three items that shouldn’t be recycled—styrofoam, plastic film and food.
Janssen wants students to know that if a recyclable is contaminated with food, the residue will ruin the surrounding material and attract rats.
“If you have half a jar of salad dressing and you have no way to scrape it out, it should go in the garbage,” Janssen said.
Towe urged students not to recycle plastic bags because they hinder mechanisms within the facility.
“Film gets wrapped around the machinery and ends up costing us thousands of dollars,” Towe said. “It backs up the entire line because we’re not able to process materials as quickly.”
The list of what students can recycle includes items such as glass, non-shredded paper, plastic bottles, cardboard, milk cartons and aluminum.
After exploring the local recycling facility, Bag the Bag members, who already work to limit the use of plastic bags, were eager to start recycling the right way.
“There’s a lot to improve on but that’s nothing to be depressed about,” said Quinn Webb, a freshman member of Bag the Bag. “We’ve just gotta give it a shot!”