May 9, 2013
Thousands of Charlottesville families take out their recycling every week, but many of them may not know the 100-mile journey those materials take every week to get sorted and sold.
"It's easy because all the goods can go into one bin," said David Aikman, with Republic Services. "There's no more individual sorting."
Aikman's company collects recycling from 13,000 homes in Charlottesville every week, and climbing.
"It's fantastic to see the numbers rise year after year," said Aikman.
The city of Charlottesville pays Republic $37,000 a month to haul away recycling for residents. That averages out to about $3 per month per house. Residents do not pay a fee to have their recycling taken away by Republic.
The first stop for all those trucks that pick up Charlottesville's recycling bins is a large facility at Zions Crossroads where it can all be gathered together and put onto tractor trailers.
The city provides enough recycling to fill about one tractor trailer each day.
Then that tractor trailer takes an 80-mile journey to TFC Recycling in Chester. TFC works to sort all of the paper, plastic, metal and glass.
"We process approximately 6,000 tons a month," said Tad Phillips, the General Manager at TFC. "The first thing we do is we pull out anything that's not recyclable."
That's not a whole lot of material. Phillips says only about four percent of the stuff they get, they can't use.
Everything else gets divided on conveyer belts.
"We have a series of mechanical screens that sort out the cardboard and the newspaper from the bottles and cans," said Phillips.
The plant uses fans to separate light paper from heavier cans and bottles. It uses magnets to pick up metal and leave plastic behind.
Once the materials are sorted, they get placed in a bailer which creates large bricks weighing nearly a ton. Those bricks don't stay in the plant for long.
"This material here was made yesterday," said Phillips. "It will be shipped by the end of the week."
And TFC ships the material everywhere.
"Fifty percent of the fiber goes to offshore," said Phillips. "China, Indonesia, India, Korea. All the bottles and cans stay here in the United States."
The aluminum cans can be back on the shelf in 60 days. All the old newspaper and junk mail will be turned into tomorrow's paper towels and toilet paper. Plastic bottles become stuffing for winter coats and sleeping bags, or woven into tote bags.
Aikman says it's a lot better than putting it in the landfill.
"Most everything in your trash container is either recyclable or compostable," said Aikman.