Friday, April 19, 2013

Recycle, It’s Earth Day

I don’t think anyone has been as excited about trash as the day that Jeremy and I got to go down to Republic  Services and tour their Eco Center. I’m not kidding. It. Was. Awesome. Anaheim is the largest city in Orange County, so let’s face it, we have a lot of trash. And where does it all go? What happens to our recyclables? How about that green waste? Don’t worry, I’m here to tell you the tale of trash.

Recycling should start off at home. Most cities, including Anaheim, have some sort of recycling program. I think that most people aren’t quite aware how they work so if you don’t live in Anaheim contact your local trash or public utility department for more information. If you are into being green, it’s interesting stuff. Since the 1990s Anaheim has had a 3 container recycling system for residential homes. The black is trash, the green is recycling and the brown is green (yard) waste.

Once picked up, our trash makes its way to Republic Services 35 acre campus in Anaheim. In a nutshell, real trash is taken to the Brea-Olinda Landfill and while our green waste is turned into mulch and used as cover at the landfill. The Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) is very important for the future of all recyclables that end up in the green bins. Not only is it unique that Anaheim has its own MRF, but 50 tons of trash is sorted an hour with a daily limit of 600 tons a day.

Loaders dump piles of recycling on the floor of the Eco Center creating mountains of trash which are dumped onto conveyor belts that enter the first section of the MRF. Manual sorters pre-sort all material that cannot be recycled or that can damage the machine. This includes food or anything else that can contaminate the recycled material. Next, the recycling enters a machine sorter that uses discs on spinning axles to separate any paper or cardboard from plastic, glass and metal bottles or cans. The paper and cardboard are the first to be bundled into bales. Glass is usually broken into very small pieces at this point and is separated to be resold.

The remaining containers than pass through a machine with optical sensors that takes a photo of the items and can almost immediately tell the type of plastic passing through. Using air knives, or quick blasts of high pressure air, plastics 1 through 7 are separated and sorted into three compartments. Magnets help separate aluminum cans from magnetic cans during the same process. It truly is amazing how fast this sorting happens!

After the recycling is properly sorted it is bailed and begins another journey. Most recycling is sold to China and must be loaded into shipping containers and then journey from the port of Long Beach to China via cargo ship to be used to make new products.

Contamination of recycled bales can divert its journey to the landfill. This happens when food is mixed in with recyclables. Wash out bottles and cans, and if there is noticeable food on a container, throw it in the trash. Lisa Robles who showed us around Republic Services suggested tearing off the tops of pizza boxes for recycling (as long as it is still clean) and leaving the grease stained bottoms in the trash bin to avoid any contamination.

I might be slightly biased since I live in Anaheim, but I think they deserve a gold star for their recycling. Currently California law requires cities to keep 50% of their trash out of the landfill, and Anaheim is at a solid 63%. That’s the diversion rate. Due to new laws, cities are going to be required to keep 75% of trash out of landfills which is going to require more recycling than just at home. Lisa suggested that people who live in multifamily locations keep their trash bagged and place any recyclables loose in the dumpster. This helps the commercial sorter in the Eco Center go more smoothly and meet that higher recovery rate.

Don’t put hazardous material, electronic waste or bulky items into any of the trash bins. Orange County has 4 household hazardous waste collection centers, including one in Anaheim. They even have a material exchange program where you can choose 5 items that have been turned in for free. We’ve used this service before for small paint projects so it comes in handy. E-waste can also be dropped off at these collection centers. If you have some larger items to throw away like a couch, contact Anaheim Disposal to schedule a pick up. Bulky item pickups are free up to 3 times a year for up to 20 items during each visit.

While Spring cleaning I noticed I had some expired medication. While Republic Services doesn’t offer medication recycling at this time, there are many places that do offer it and can be found HERE.

If you are as interested in recycling as we are and live in Anaheim, contact Republic Services for your own tour of their Eco Center.

 Celebrate Earth Day in Anaheim!



  1. Thanks for the tour. I am usually pretty good about washing my recycle materials, but I didn't realize the part about food contamination. Also, I wish Dallas had a separate garbage bin for yard waste!

    1. Glad you liked the tour! You can compost some of your yard waste, but it can get stinky. We are very lucky that our yard waste gets up free compost from the city. Have a great Earth Day!

  2. That was so interesting! Thank you for sharing and teaching me something new today.


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