TAYLOR: Yes, Virginia, Our Recyclables Really DO Get Recycled

Column from Deboah J. Taylor

Yes, Virginia, Our Recyclables
Really DO Get Recycled

Photo by Martha Clarvoe.

A group of Otsego County residents toured Sierra Processing in Albany to find out exactly what happens to the items we place in our local recycling bins. Where does it all go? Does it really get recycled? How do they sort it?

When Otsego County’s official hauler, Casella Waste, empties our recycling bins at the Northern and Southern transfer stations, as well as the towns of Hartwick and Cherry Valley, the drivers haul it, unsorted, to Sierra Processing. Located across from the Port of Albany, Sierra processes—sorts and readies for sale—mixed recyclables for more than a dozen counties in the Capital District, as well as three in Massachusetts.

Huge haulers dump loads of unsorted recyclables on the floor at two ends of the 30,000-square-foot-building, and the sorting begins. Bulldozers shove it onto giant conveyor belts, where a shaking process evens the piles out so quick-working humans can pluck unrecyclable items—car batteries, lawn hoses, guns, knives, battery chargers, electric cords, etc.—from the fast-moving, never-ending flow. The conveyor belts continue up, down, all-around, sorting plastics, cardboard, aluminum, tin, and glass into separate streams. The plant also uses robots who pick, pull and sort. And make a lot of noise.

Finally, the separated recyclables are strapped into bales and loaded into trucks for their final destinations, where they will be re-processed into new goods. Georgia-Pacific was buying paper and cardboard, for example.

Sierra Processing Maintenance Manager David Christie, who led the Otsego County group on its tour of the facility, considers those bales of paper, cardboard, aluminum, tin, glass and plastics his “product.” When it trucks from Sierra to his customer, Christie wants it to be clean and well-sorted, the best that it can be.

Christie said that, while it varies, around 90 percent of the items dumped on the floor at the beginning of the “Big Sort” make it to a recycling destination, leaving about 10 percent to go into landfills. Those items include (but are certainly not limited to) black garbage bags that are full but which workers cannot safely open because they can’t see the contents.

The plant runs 24/7, with around 35 employees per shift. Between 400-450 tons of recyclables are processed each day.
So when we wonder, as we lug our bags of recyclables to the bins every week, if indeed, all the “stuff” is recycled? Yes, it is, for the most part. We have to be careful on our end, too.

Otsego County residents who participated in the tour included representatives from the Otsego County Conservation Association Recycling Committee, Town of Hartwick recycling volunteers and League of Women Voters of the Cooperstown Area members.


3 thoughts on “TAYLOR: Yes, Virginia, Our Recyclables Really DO Get Recycled

  1. Laura Kilty

    This is great news!! I have always had a question about the recycling and where the material goes and if it is truly recycled. Thanks for doing the research. In the meantime I try to reduce as much as possible-especially plastic. It is not easy but there are alternatives if you just look hard enough. There are “sheets of laundry detergent”, bars of shampoo and conditioner, dishwashing soap bars, tablets that can be chewed into toothpaste, and deodorant in paper containers. It feels good to use less plastic which comes from fossil fuels. Give it a try!!

  2. Mary Anne Whelan

    Re: recycling
    While it’s all very well that things get recycled once they reach Albany, our local “Northern Transport Station” is a disgrace. Anyone who doubts this is cordially invited to visit – Tuesday or Wednesday are especially good days. It is a stinking, filthy mess. Furthermore, the bins in which recycled material is supposed to go, are open: when weather gets in and dampens the contents, they go to garbage. Casella may be the lowest bidder but they are not fit to manage this task, and I urge that they be replaced the next time their contact comes up. Management was much better under MOSA.
    Additionally, cleaning up the blowing plastic along the “fence” line on the way up to the trash section is the responsibility of the County, not Casella. This is chronically neglected, despite complaints. I think the County Board should do it themselves, since they apparently can’t find the way to do it otherwise. (NOTE TO EDITOR ONLY: THIS HAS NOT PREVIOUALY BEEN PUBLISHED !!)

    Mary Anne Whelan
    241 County Hwy 28, Cooperstown, NY 13326
    Tel. 607 547-5203

  3. Georgia Meeter

    Both comments are very helpful to know! It’d be great if school science ? teachers and parents could add a little time to sharing specifically the data above where our recyclables go — to Albany and how they are sorted and then move on to new products. That I think helps make it more a reality why to use recyclable bins in public places too. I often hear much just goes to trash and is not sorted! Perhaps letter 2 helps explain that locally and thus people get discouraged seeing and smelling the mess…The description I’ve seen/smelled. I do hear from some Dreams Park parents and some of my friends in other states, they have no separate cans for recycling their garbage… Glad we in Cooperstown are trying!

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