I recently had the opportunity to visit the Casella Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Charlestown, Massachusetts. This is where they sort single stream recycling. I have always been fascinated by how they sort the recycling and I found the visit fascinating. I was also struck by the fact that the person who is currently the plant manager started there almost 20 years ago sorting recycling by hand. He fully understood all the operations of his facility and could recite current prices for materials off the top of his head.
The entire facility was fascinating. What you can’t tell from the photos is that we were up on catwalks walking between the different pieces of equipment that do the sorting. The manager said that with the sorting equipment they currently have they have more staff now than they did 15 years ago. The staff supervise the equipment and check for errors. The entire facility was very loud but we had a virtual tour in their conference room first, where they explained the processes. The other people on my tour really added to my education as well. I met a sustainability educator who works for Coca-Cola, a bottling representative, and two people that own a facility that processes styrofoam.
My biggest takeaway from the day is that recycling is really worth while. There is a large demand for the items that are being sorted out. Casella tries to keep their materials in the US, but newspaper and mixed paper frequently get sold overseas. Cardboard, aluminum and most plastics get sold domestically. Less than 10% of what comes in the front door gets sent out as actual trash!
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