Human beings use the earth’s resources to produce goods and energy. Harvesting natural resources like petroleum to produce plastics and energy, trees to produce paper and metal to produce a variety of products, has negative impacts on the natural world. Conservation and responsible use of natural resources helps reduce negative environmental impacts like oil spills, air and water pollution and habitat loss. Reducing waste is one way to conserve natural resources. Consuming less, using something until it’s all used up or no longer works, donating still-good items instead of throwing them away, choosing to purchase second-hand items and items with less packaging are all examples.
How recycling works
Concord citizens’ recycling is processed at the Metrolina Recycling Center which is owned by Mecklenburg Co. and operated by a contractor. We have adapted their web page to help explain how recycling works.
Step 1 – Recycling at Home
Concord citizens have what is called "Single Stream Recycling." Single stream recycling refers to a collection system in which all recyclables are collected together in one container at home, school or at one of Cabarrus County's recycling convenience centers. Be sure you're only putting acceptable items, only, into your container. Never place food items, Styrofoam, sandwich bags, chip wrappers, or garden water hoses in your bins. These items must be placed in the trash. Never place plastic bags in the recycling bin. Plastic bags can be recycled at many retailers. On your recycling day, the recycling containers are wheeled to the curb for pick-up. The recycling truck then comes through neighborhoods collecting the recyclables with large hydraulic arms that pick up the carts and empties the recyclables into the truck. Once the trucks are full, they head to the Metrolina Recycling Center.
Step 2 – Arrival at the Recycling Center
Trucks arriving at the facility are first weighed at the scale house. Trucks come from all over the Charlotte region. The recyclable materials collected by the trucks are emptied on the tipping floor. Between 400 and 500 tons of material arrive daily and must be sorted by the network of equipment and people at the facility. The material is pushed from the tipping floor into a hopper, which starts to uncompact the mixed material with a metering drum.
Step 3 – Sorting the Material
After going through the metering drum, the material moves onto the first of many conveyor belts that quickly move the material. The material first goes through the pre-sort cabin where workers remove as much unaccepted material as possible from the fast moving conveyor belt. It's very important to keep the unaccepted materials out of the recycling stream as many of these items can create safety hazards, seriously damage machinery, and stop facility operations that decrease efficiency. Next the material moves onto rotating screens which separate the cardboard and fiber products from the other material. Then the material moves on through a system of magnets which separate the steel cans and eddy currents that separate the aluminum cans. Rigid plastic bottles and containers are sorted by optical sorters that use air jets to direct the plastics to the correct bunker. The system is designed to handle basic household recyclables: paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and jugs.
Step 4 – Bailing the Material
The recycling facility processes over 30 tons of material per hour. That's 60,000 pounds per hour! After the material is sorted, it is loaded into bunkers. Then, the material types are sent through balers to compact the material into bales to prepare them for sale and shipping. The bales can weigh 1000 to 1500 pounds depending on the material. Baling the material allows for efficient storage and shipping. Glass is the only recyclable material that is not able to be baled. The misguided items that can't be recycled in the system that manage to make it through without causing problems go out as residue into a trash compactor. "Recycling Right" is very important for employee's safety, protecting the machinery, reducing disposal and operating cost, facility efficiency and creating clean bales of marketable materials to be recycled into new items.
Step 5 – Sold to Manufacturers
The finished bales of recyclable material are sold and shipped to manufactures who process the bales into new items. The value of the bales of the recyclables is directly related to the commodity market. Depending on the economics and demand for the material type, the bales of recyclable material may be shipped to local, regional or even global processing plants. Paper and fiber products are shipped to paper mills that make new paper products. The bales of aluminum cans are typically recycled into new aluminum cans. The bales of steel cans are melted down and turned into new steel materials by metal processors. The bales of plastic are ground by plastic processors into plastic pellets. The processors turn the plastic pellets into new plastic products or are even processed into textiles to become carpet or fleece clothing. Purchasing products that are made with recycled content completes the recycling loop.
Step 6 - Tour the Recycling Center
The Metrolina Recycling Center also offers group tours that will allow you to see this amazing process for yourself and learn more about and how it all works.
To schedule a tour of the facility for your school group or organization, call 704-598-8595.