“Every day is Earth Day for us. This is what we do,” said Maureen Pfund, director of tours and education at Great Lakes Recycling, as she stood in front of the machines and moving conveyor belts carrying recyclable material.
Earth Day started on April 22, 1970, with a nationwide demonstration. More than 100,000 people converged on New York City's Fifth Avenue and rallies were held across thw country to demonstrate against pollution. Today, Earth Day is observed around the globe.
Great Lakes Recycling (GLR), 36543 South Huron Rd., New Boston, MI, opened in 2008 as a state-of-the-art single-stream recycling plant; the company has an older plant in Roseville. Single-stream means that newspapers, milk jugs, soup cans and other recyclable items can be put in one container for curbside pickup.
Earth Week 2009 is when and the township’s waste hauler, Canton Waste Recycling contracted with GLR to add single-stream to its curbside recycling program for the township’s single-family homes.
“The percentage of materials recycled here was very low and we wanted to offer a more simple program with expanded materials,” said Tim Faas, Canton Municipal Services director. He said with a simpler program, residents would recycle more.
It worked. Township records show an all-time high last year, with residents pitching out 3,600 tons of material for recycling.
“The old program was very limited in what we took,” said Paul Denski, owner of Canton Waste Recycling.
Denski said the previous program accepted newspapers but no glossy inserts and all materials had to be bundled or put in bags. The new program for curbside recycling allows magazines, phone books, envelopes, all plastics, numbered one through seven, as well as clear glass and metal pots and pans.
Denksi said Canton Waste Recycling, or CWR, is glad to be a part of a program that helps them recycle more. “It’s user-friendly. It makes it more convenient for our residents to want to recycle,” he said.
Since the program started, Canton residents who participate in curbside recycling take all their recyclable materials and place them unsorted in bins for pick-up.
CWR collects and transports the discarded items more than 10 miles, to the New Boston plant, where the sorting process begins.
“This is the only single-stream recycling plant in Michigan. And this is primarily for residential recycling,” Pfund said.
“We process 5,000 to 6,000 tons a month,” said Mary Jo VanNatter who works in procurement at GLR.
Recycled materials that have been compacted or baled in trucks are driven over to GLR’s receiving room. The materials – boxes, water bottles, paper and plastic bags – get added to the large mounds already there.
VanNatter said the receiving area holds 300 to 500 tons and it’s full every day.
Technology speeds process
“Now there’s the technology to separate it,” Pfund explained as a front-loading machine scooped the materials and dumped them into the drum feeder. The drum feeder has a moving floor that shakes and loosens the recyclables, she said.
“So the material comes into the plant as a single layer,” she said.
Once in the plant, the material moves up a conveyer belt and passes by a group of workers. They look for anything that doesn’t belong like garbage and items too bulky to go through the machines. “We just don’t want it to go clunking through the recycling,” Pfund said.
Some items, such as electronics, do not go through the machines but are stored, then sent to other GLR plants to be properly recycled.
The workers at the first sorting step also separate corrugated cardboard and plastic bags, which are sent down different conveyor belts before they are baled.
After the first sorting step, the materials cross over to a machine of steel rollers. Here, the paper is tossed up by the rollers and kept afloat, while glass, plastic and metal objects move underneath.
Then the glass is separated from the pack where it gets crushed and deposited into a large bin ready to be transported.
The remaining three-dimensional products made of plastic and metal fall down to the container conveyor and make their way to the left side of the plant and up to a giant magnet.
The magnet separates ferrous metals, like steel, from non-ferrous metals. These are collected in bins after they are separated and later baled.
The remaining materials are two types plastic – clear (typically water bottles) and opaque (such as milk jugs). In another machine, a type of electric current called an eddy current pushes the clear plastics to the side.
Finally, the remaining opaque plastics move to the end of the conveyor belt and are sorted into appropriate bins.
Each of the materials – cardboard, paper, plastic bags, metals and container plastics – are held separately in bins before being put onto a conveyor to the baling machine.
According to the introduction video at the entrance of the building, the facility processes about 15 tons of material an hour with about 14 workers. A receiving room holding at least 300 tons can be emptied in about 20 hours -- or one day.
After the recyclable materials are hauled into the baler, where they are compacted and wrapped securely with rope, the bales are stacked in the storage area where they stay until shipment.
“The most tonnage we get is probably newspaper,” said Dan Saval, second shift manager at GLR.
The expansive storage area has neatly stacked rows of paper, aluminum cans, water bottles, milk jugs and detergent containers. Also baled are mixed rigid plastics, items like swing sets and water coolers, Saval said.
All the materials sorted at the facility would have been separated by hand at the curb to achieve the same results. “Which would make the recycling process very cumbersome,” said Saval.
“I don’t think you would get the same participation,” added Pfund.
Swift recycling increase
Participation has seen a major increase, according township statistics. Before the start of single-stream recycling in 2006 and 2007, the township recycled roughly 1,800 tons.
In 2008, Faas said the township embarked on recycling awareness, which pushed participation up. Numbers jumped further in 2009 when the single-stream recycling program started, and doubled in 2010, when 3,600 tons of material from the township was recycled.
“That was our goal,” Faas said. “Our goal [in 2008] was to double the tonnage in 2015, and we hit that in 2010.”
More information about Canton’s single-stream recycling program and other recycling activities can be found at its Municipal Services page. To see the single-stream recycling process in action, readers can visit Great Lakes Recycling online to schedule a tour of the facility.