Mixed recycling gets compacted

My local transfer station collects ALL recycling materials in the same place. AND THEN gets compacted so that it can be trucked away to the recycling facility.
Cardboard, paper, cans, glass, etc. How is it even possible to sort it at the facility??
I wonder if it’s just being buried with the regular trash.

Why don’t you ask them?

That’s how they now do it at our transfer station, and I have the same suspicion. The only thing that makes it seem 51% likely that they may actually be recycling it is that we have a fee for disposing of trash but recycling is free.

Single-stream recycling is done with a lot of automated machinery. They dump it on a conveyor belt and magnets pull the steel, grippy things pull the paper, etc. You can find videos on YouTube of how it all works. People are standing along the conveyor belt pulling things off if they get mis-sorted. I’m not sure if that is what happens to your compacted recycling or not, but I wouldn’t be surprised. The trucks just dump their loads at the processing plant with everything all mixed up anyway.

There are a lot of videos of youtube about how recycling facilities work. Like this one: How Recycling Works: Behind the Scenes at the MRF. Different facilities have different levels of technology. For example, in this video plastic bottles and aluminum cans are sorted by hand. Other facilities have optical sorters for plastic and utilize eddy currents to make aluminum jump off the conveyor.

But, yes, “single stream recycling” – where everything is mixed in one place and then has to be sorted – as it’s called is a mess. It doesn’t go as perfectly as the videos depict. And hard-core environmentalists hate it. A lot of stuff does go to waste because of cross-contamination and the difficulty of separating it. But it’s cheap to collect and it dramatically increases participation. You wouldn’t believe how many people, if you tell them “put paper in the blue bin and metal in the green bin,” just say “screw this.”

And the recycling business has been in a crisis lately because China has laid down the law, so to speak, and said “we’re sick of dealing with your junk.” They have begun enforcing new stricter standards for the quality of stuff they accept. And prices for recycled materials (except maybe metal) have fallen dramatically.

Most recycling facilities offer public tours monthly, if not more often. Just sign up for one and see just how things are done in your locality.

I toured the one here in Minneapolis; it was an interesting (and educational) experience.

Recyclers like single stream because the valuable stuff is mixed in (aluminum cans etc.) If people sort their recycling, poachers will come by and take the most valuable stuff. This leaves the recycling company with all the junk, paper, cardboard.

There are different levels of compacting. It is possible that your facility compacts enough to where it lowers transportation costs, but the bales come apart easily when at a MeRF.
Or they are just land filling it - many plastics are hard to place right now. But I have to believe that’s too cynical to be true.

Ideally, everybody sorts their recycling and doesn’t just toss it in the trash. But people aren’t good about that.

With single stream, there’s a lot of waste that ends up getting tossed anyway. But people are much more likely to recycle if they can single stream. It ends up being a net positive, but clearly the better result would be if recycling didn’t involve so much waste.

It seems that the recycling industry is in trouble now that China doesn’t want our garbage.