What actually happens to the stuff you put in the recycling bin?
The things we put in our recycling bins end up at plants like Sims Municipal Recycling in Brooklyn. At the massive warehouse, more than 800 tons of recyclables from all over New York are brought over by barge and truck every day.
After the materials are dropped off, they’re sorted via an automation system that includes conveyor belts, magnets, and cameras. Once enough of one material is collected, it’s compressed into 1,000 to 1,500 pound blocks called bales and sold to third-party companies. Buyers then take that raw material, clean and process it, and turn it into something new.
Despite the great setup at places like Sims, there are a lot of issues with recycling. According to the E.P.A approximately 75% of our waste is recyclable, yet our recycling rates hang around 34% nationally. To try and raise the recycling rate in the city, Sims offers daily education tours of the plant.
People also put trash in the recycling bin, hoping that it can be recycled when it cannot. Nationally, around 25% of materials processors receive is contaminated or not recyclable. One of the most popular non-recyclable products that people stick in the recycling bin is plastic bags. Because they are a low-quality plastic, plastic bags are difficult to resell. So if you want to recycle your plastic bags, drop them off at a designated plastic recycling space—or skip them altogether and opt for reusable bags.