Once your recyclable are picked up at your curb, most residents don't exactly know where they go and what happens to them. We're here to break down the process and hopefully clear up some confusion on what exactly happens to the recycling you put out on your curbside.
Materials Recycling Facilities
After your hauler picks up your recycling, it is brought to a nearby sorting facility. This facility is called a material recovery facility (MRF). This facility receives, separates and prepares recyclables for manufactures.
There are two types of MRFs: Clean and Dirty. A dirty MRF takes in and separates recyclable material from waste streams that also contain trash. On the other hand, clean MRFs only receive pre-separated waste streams - it is not meant to sort out trash, only recyclable materials. This explanation focuses on a single-stream clean MRF, as this is where all recycling goes in Dakota County.
At a clean MRF, recyclables are separated by material. The illustration below show the general process to how recycling is separated in a MRF.
Recycling → Commodities
Once the recyclables are sorted by material, they are baled into compact cubes. These cubes are now considered commodities, since they can be sold to manufactures. Consumers drive the value of these commodities. A demand by consumers for products made using recyclable materials creates a need for manufactures to use these materials, thus increasing the value of the recycled material.
Recycled paper materials are sold to paper mills where they are further processed before being sold to manufactures. Recycled paper is often used in toilet paper, egg cartons, and paper towel rolls.
The bales of metals are sent to smelting facilities where they are further processed before being manufactured into new products. Because metal doesn't break down easily, recycled metal can be used to make a variety of products like aluminum or tin cans, file cabinets, or tin foil.
The glass cullet is sent to glass processing facilities. Glass can be recycled an infinite number of times, so recycled glass is often manufactured right back into what it was: bottles and jars.
Plastic bales are sold to plastic recycling facilities where they are most often down-cycled into things like lawn furniture, garbage cans, carpets, and park benches.