By Shelby Kuenzli, Digital Marketing EcoFellow

Recently, some of the EcoFellows and CET staff took a tour of the Springfield Materials Recycling Facility (SMRF). We got to see the inside of the facility, where the materials are dropped off, where they’re sorted and the belts that the materials travel on. Afterwards, we were shown the gigantic bales of recyclable materials and were invited to have a discussion about the different challenges of recycling and how important outreach and education is. Find out what we learned below!

About 70 cities and towns bring their recycling materials to the SMRF and there are multiple ways that towns recycle. The two most common ways to recycle are through single-stream recycling and dual-stream recycling. Single stream refers to recycling materials (such as paper and plastic) are mixed together; dual stream recycling involves separating materials into paper products and other containers (such as plastic, metal and glass, etc). The most common method is dual stream, and the SMRF only processes dual stream.

The SMRF employs roughly 15 employees from the local community and works very hard to reduce contamination in the recycled materials it receives. Recycling loads are delivered by “haulers” using trucks and they’re weighed on giant scales in front of the building to see how much material is brought in. The values of specific recycled materials change frequently, but paper is always valuable, due to continued demand. As a matter of fact, paper is the number one item filling landfills and accounts for roughly 35% of what goes into them!

When it comes to recycling materials, purity matters. The numbers on the bottom of a plastic items indicate the type of material it is made out of which helps with sorting. It also helps because some companies that purchase plastic recyclable material only want certain grades. The SMRF uses a combination of sorting equipment and people to separate out the items as well as remove contaminants. For example, they have giant magnets to sort steel from the line. Cans and plastic bottles are melted so their component materials can be reused and remade into other products.

After seeing the main hub of the SMRF, we were brought to the end stage where we were able to see how the sorted materials are packaged. They’re put into giant bales and seeing them up close was definitely a highlight of the tour. All of the materials within them are flattened and compacted for easy transport and each bale weighed 1,000 pounds or more! It put into perspective how much is actually being recycled and how much impact the action of the individual can make. This tour also brought to light how important it is to properly sort and know what can and can’t be recycled. Here is link to the guidelines on which materials are and are not accepted for recycling at the SMRF.

We really enjoyed the tour and hope you consider visiting the SMRF yourself! As a final note, here are some interesting things we learned, and some additional resources about items that are more difficult to recycle.

Interesting Tidbits

  • Many bulky rigid plastics are rejected, such as toys, because it is unknown what type of plastics they are made of.
  • A general rule is to have materials “spoon clean” before recycling. A good rinse should be sufficient.
  • Many types of cardboard that are expected to get wet (soda can boxes, frozen foods, beers, etc) are coated with plastic and not recyclable.


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