What happens to your recycling?

Craft & Design Energy & Sustainability
What happens to your recycling?

About a year ago my town started moving seriously towards Single Stream Recycling and Pay as You Throw for trash. These were initiated as a way of giving people an incentive to recycle instead of tossing everything in the trash. The trash was a pretty big part of the budget for waste removal in the town. One of the first steps in this process was to institute the recycling initiative. Instead of separating all of their plastic, glass, metal, cardboard and paper, people could just toss it all into one recycling bin and then bring it to the newly dubbed Recycling Center, which people still call the dump.

Getting rid of trash and other refuse is all related to the commodities markets. Somebody has to be willing to pay for your stuff, or you will. As a result, tossing trash into the pit was costing the town about $90 usd a ton to get rid of it. Then a town employee would drive a truck with the trash to a relatively nearby town where the trash would be fed into an incinerator and burned to generate heat, turning a turbine and in turn generating electricity.

As the world economy slows down, it seems that the commodities market is falling off. This appears likely to affect the ability for organizations and municipalities to get rid of their recyclable materials cheaply.

Recycling at the time was a hot commodity, where the equation worked a bit differently. Instead of the town paying to get rid of the recycling, a vendor would drive their own trucks and use their own bins, even providing a compactor to collect our recycling at no charge for the town. Free recycling and transport vs $90 a ton plus shipping for trash. This provided an opportunity for people to control their personal costs while also controlling the costs of operating the facility for the town.

As part of the community education process, we organized a Transfer Station Field Trip for members of the Transfer Station Advisory Board, some town employees and a reporter for the local paper. We drove the route that our recycling goes, from Duxbury to Andover, through the City of Boston.

When we arrived at the recycling plant in Andover, MA, we got to see how our recycling is sorted. It was a fascinating collection of machines with conveyor belts, vibrations and magnets all calibrated to separate the various parts of the waste stream so they could be packed up and shipped to a vendor for further processing and then sold back to us.

What do you think of recycling? What are some of the best resources for Recycling, Reuse and Reduction of waste? Does recycling work? Does it do the job, or is it a stopgap measure? What can towns and cities do when the market for recycling craters? How else can you reduce the waste leaving your life? does your school recycle any or all of its’ paper? What is your best Dump Score? Have you built, maintained or otherwise used equipment that is designed to sort things by their physical qualities? When you throw something away, where does it go? Add your comments below and please contribute photos and videos to the make Flickr pool.

Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.

View more articles by Chris Connors


Ready to dive into the realm of hands-on innovation? This collection serves as your passport to an exhilarating journey of cutting-edge tinkering and technological marvels, encompassing 15 indispensable books tailored for budding creators.