If you have visited Sedona Recycles, you know that we require our recyclers to separate their materials into categories: cardboard, paper, clear glass, colored glass, and plastics and cans. Have you ever wondered what happens to those plastics and cans and why you don’t have to separate them?
Since the recycling center first opened 20 years ago we have used a sorting line to ensure that plastics and cans get properly sorted for recycling. We can’t risk mixing up aluminum and steel, and today’s wide range of plastics makes sorting these items even more complicated. Every day for four hours, developmentally disabled adults from Rainbow Acres Ranch work at Sedona Recycles on our sorting line. This partnership began in 2000, and some of our sorters have been working here longer than we have.
A few weeks ago I spent a morning working on the sorting line and I wanted to share my adventures with you in the hope that it will shape how you look at what you recycle. First off, you must always keep in mind that someone (not you) is digging into what you have put in the bins and sorting it all out. As they say, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is a great sentiment that we should all adhere to and it makes the work of our sorters much more pleasant.
But what does a day on the line look like? We have seven stations on our sorting line and most positions require the sorter to pull more than one type of item off the line. I took the outside station; this is the place where the material enters the line. My job was to spread out the materials along the conveyor belt so they don’t overwhelm the sorting crew and to remove anything that shouldn’t be there like plastic bags and garbage. Sounds easy, right? I was up for the task.
The belt started and the material began to come up. Everything came up in big heaps and I had to level it all out. Up came the plastic bags – one, two, three… On and on the stream of unwanted, soiled bags came up the line. As fast as I tossed one, another took its place. The whole time I was thinking that all of those bags could have been recycled if only the people who put them here had taken them to the local grocery stores. There – still clean – they would have been recycled into composite lumber, but now they are destined for the landfill. The bags were all wet and dirty; having been compacted into all the other recyclables in the truck they were reduced to garbage.
The material kept moving along, mostly clean well-sorted recyclables. But then up came an old coffee maker, followed by a car bumper. Fortunately I was able to pull those out and direct them to the right receptacle. A large soggy bag followed, filled with food waste and other trash. I stopped to wonder what the person was thinking when they threw this into the plastic and cans bin. I begrudgingly gave them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe they made a mistake or they can’t afford trash service. Maybe they were visiting from out of town and didn’t know what to do with their trash.
Mostly that bag of garbage reminded me that as difficult as it is to sort recyclable materials, it must be so much harder to recover recyclables that are purposely mixed with trash. Can you imagine doing that every day as your job? Waste and recyclables do not mix and they should never be purposely mixed if we actually want them to be recycled. Workers at mixed waste facilities must fight their way through yard debris, dirty diapers, dog waste, medical waste, you name it – everything that makes up garbage.
I felt lucky that day. Working on the sorting line wasn’t easy but it gave me a real appreciation for the Ranchers from Rainbow Acres and all of our staff. They are excellent at their jobs and actually have a good time doing it. There are laughs and jokes and camaraderie in the yard and on the sorting line and I know that is what makes Sedona Recycles special. It is not always pretty and certainly not always neat and tidy. But we count ourselves as the lucky ones; we are doing good work for a good cause and we thank you for the part you play.
If you would like to see the sorting line in action or volunteer to try it out, please contact us at (928) 204-1185 or visit www.sedonarecycles.org.
by Jill McCutcheon, Sedona Recycles
Sedona Red Rock News
May 18, 2016