Viewpoint: Band of recycling fairies and more

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Do you ever wonder what happens to your recycling after you toss it into your roll cart?  
Is there a band of recycling fairies who utilize their magic powers to sort the materials and generate new products?  Farfetched explanation?  
Perhaps, but the fact is most people are unaware of the processes involved with recycling. But no worries, I am here to enlighten you.
In Los Alamos County we have a single-stream recycling collection system, meaning all recyclable materials are mixed together by the resident in one cart and collected.  
The roll cart is emptied into one of the County’s recycling collection vehicles and brought to the Eco Station.  
At the Eco Station the co-mingled recyclables are loaded into a semi-truck for transport to the Buckman Road Recycling and Transfer Station (BuRRT) in Santa Fe.  
At the BuRRT the processing of the recyclable materials begins. The co-mingled materials are loaded onto a conveyor belt and a combination of machines and hand sorting are used to separate the mixed recyclables into different commodity streams.  
Six commodity streams are generated from the recyclables you place in your roll cart: cardboard otherwise known as OCC, Newspaper otherwise known as ONP that includes all paper, aluminum cans, tin cans, plastic bottles #1 otherwise known as PET, and plastic bottles #2 otherwise known as HDPE.  
It is during this sorting process that non-recyclable materials that are in the recycling stream are removed.  
It is important that individuals do not place non-recyclable materials in their recycling bins because it places a burden on the BuRRT and could result in our loads of recyclables being sent to the landfill.
Once separated into their commodity streams the materials are baled, a machine is used to compress the materials into blocks that can be easily moved and stacked.  
The separated recyclables that have been baled are then loaded onto semi-trucks and shipped to remanufacturing facilities.  
The BuRRT markets the materials and sells them to the highest bidder, resulting in some fluctuation in the location where the materials are shipped to be reprocessed.  The two fairly consistent commodities when it comes to the remanufacturing facility they are shipped to are cardboard and mixed paper.  
Fairly local markets are available for these products which enables these facilities to consistently offer the highest value to the BuRRT.  
For the other four commodity streams there are no nearby facilities, which results in the material getting sent to many different remanufacturing facilities throughout the United States.
These remanufacturing facilities take the material and process it in a way that enables the creation of a valued commodity that can be sold.  
For example at the aluminum reprocessing facility the aluminum can will be melted down and remolded into another aluminum can, a process that uses 95 percent less energy than taking the necessary steps to make a can from the raw material bauxite.  
Once reprocessed that aluminum can will make its way back to a consumer, and if they recycle it the process will start again.  
So now you know what happens to your recyclables after they leave your roll cart.  
Remember by choosing to toss it in the blue cart you are helping save energy, create jobs and preserve our environment.

Tom Nagawiecki
Los Alamos County
Environmental Services Specialist