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Most pieces of today’s recycling technology, such as a vibrating table and a rotary trommel, were inspired by a long line of equipment that has shaped the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the industry. Some of the machines that have most influenced the recycling process include:
Recycling balers use compression to condense the materials into a compact size. The resulting shape is more suitable and convenient for stacking and transporting. Balers are ideal to use with metals, paper, cardboard and plastic.
A compactor is a mobile container that compresses and stores recyclable materials up to a maximum volume. Once it reaches this volume, the container goes to a processing facility. Compactors can greatly improve waste reduction rates.
A granulator is a piece of equipment that can break down plastic. Its main component is a series of slicing blades. The blades reduce the size of the material, improving the ease of handling and processing.
The purpose of grapplers is to more easily move around piles of recyclable material. A claw, usually attached to a long arm, grabs, maneuvers, and then releases large amounts of scrap.
Large, industrial magnets are used at facilities to separate the different metals and the different commingled materials.
People who wanted to recycle before the 1970s were responsible for delivering their materials to the closest processing facility. However, curbside recycling programs started to manifest nationally in the 1970s and the 1980s. Municipalities would send their trucks to private residences to collect recyclables. Moreover, the convenience of curbside collection directly helped to improve participation rates.
This trend continued to evolve through the end of the 20th century with the implementation of single-stream programs. Single-stream recycling, also referred to as commingled, is the process of collecting paper, cardboard, aluminum and other recyclable materials together in the same bin. The materials are then separated at municipal recycling facilities and sometimes resold to independent businesses.
Historically, the most commonly recycled materials have been:
As the digital age of televisions, computers, and other electronic devices continues to rapidly grow, so does the need to dispose of these items. Electronic waste, often referred to as e-waste, carries with it many significant problems if it is mismanaged. Moreover, this includes the release of toxic pollutants into the ground, water, and atmosphere. As a result, the following process represents the best practice to responsibly recycle e-waste:
Many municipalities have established electronic take-back programs with collection sites. If you are not sure where this is near you, a simple internet search usually can provide some location options.
Some materials are sensitive and reactive to environmental factors such as precipitation, heat, or cold. The facility will store the e-waste accordingly, taking the proper precautions to prevent the escape of any pollutants.
Once the e-waste is ready for processing, the recyclables are manually sorted because different electronics often require different disposal methods. After this is a more thorough disassembly to further separate the individual materials.
Advancements in equipment and access together make the evolution of recycling an integral part of environmental protection and preservation.
Author: Finnegan Pierson
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