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Keeping the Plains

What Waste Connections does with your unsorted recycling

By RON SYLVESTER on 11/18/11 06:00
The Wichita Eagle

Don Rogers hears you whispering about that unsorted recycling you leave on your curb.

But you’re wrong. Despite the rumors, it doesn’t go to the landfill. It does get recycled.

Face it, we trust the RecycleBank. We don’t ask questions when we put unsorted recycling in that tan Waste Connections container. They say they recycle it, so we believe them. If they don’t, we don’t want to know.

Some people have seen the Waste Connections recycle trucks pull into the transfer station, near the old landfill.

“If everyone ever tells you, ‘I saw the recycling truck go to the transfer station and they’re just throwing that away,’ please correct them,” said Rogers, who works with Stutzman Refuse Disposal in Hutchinson.

For the past year, Stutzman has handled the single-stream recycling for Waste Connections. Every day, Stutzman trucks about 70 percent of its recycling from the transfer station in Sedgwick County. They sort it, so you don’t have to.

This video shows how it’s done:

The 100 tons a day going through the recycling facility would make Stutzman the seventh-largest trash processor in the state.

“It’s pretty impressive to say the seventh-largest landfill in the state is a recycling center,” Rogers said.

Before Waste Connections partnered with Stutzman in November 2010, the trash hauling company had to send recycling to Ft. Worth, Texas.

After you dump your recyclables in the big container and put it out by your curb, a truck picks it up, equipped with a radio frequency reader connected to the weighing mechanism. In order for you to receive your recycling points, the trucks have to go to the transfer station. The station is divided into two sections. Trash goes in one half. The other half takes recycling. The recycling bay has electronic gauges that pick up the data from your container and send it to the RecycleBank.

It all goes into one big pile. Stutzman receives three to four trucks a day from the transfer station. It goes into another pile, where it is fed into a machine with spinning big rubber teeth. The teeth flip big pieces of cardboard in one direction, paper another. At every turn, there are real people along the line to monitor and pick out the stuff that’s missed – a plastic bag that can’t be recycled or an errant can.

Those who deal in this volume of recycling in don’t care if it’s perfect.

“A place like Miller (Pro Kansas) Recycling can sort it out cleaner and sell it to their brokers at a higher price,” Rogers said. “But we deal in such high volume, we get less for it, but it’s easier for us.”

Still, a recent tour of the Stutzman plant shows the single stream is pretty clean. They don’t even require you to rinse before you recycle.

“We want you to think about the people who work on our line (sorting it),” Rogers said. “But if the reason you’re not recycling is because you don’t want to wash it, then we don’t want that to be an excuse.”

Aluminum cans go to Anheuser-Busch, St. Louis; plastics go to carpet mills in Georgia; steel goes to a factory in Chicago.

But much stays in Kansas. Stutzman grinds up glass as fine as sand and sends it to McPherson, where it will become fiberglass insulation for your home. Cardboard and all kinds of paper go to Sonoco, just a few miles away in Hutchinson. Sonoco deals in 300 tons of recycled paper each day.

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