Lorain Recycling Complex Simplifies Reusing

Louis Krauss, News Editor

Although often aware of the consequences of global warming, consumers are not always willing to take the steps necessary to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. According to Area Community Relations Manager Jeff Kraus, one of the biggest advantages of the new recycling sorters is that consumers no longer have to sort recyclables by plastic, metal and glass.

The Lorain County Resource Recovery Complex upgraded its facilities this past month, adding powerful magnets, advanced categorization mechanisms, enhanced conveyer belts and a new 12,000 square-foot warehouse. The recycling complex, along with the Lorain County Landfill, is part of a branch of the Republic Services waste management company.

“Now we are a single-stream recycling center, meaning that customers can toss all recyclable materials into the same container, making it easier to recycle at home or work,” said Kraus.

The main attraction of the complex is its high-powered magnets, which forcibly extract all metal and aluminum objects from the conveyer belts.

“The Recovery Complex consists of various manual and mechanical sorting lines and equipment. Using high-capacity screens, powerful magnets, high-tech optical scanners and hand sorting, recyclables are separated into different areas for processing,” said Kraus. “The process includes a cardboard screen, glass breaker that separates contaminants from glass, two fiber screens and a finishing screen that separates mail, newspaper and some cardboard. The line also includes three optical sorters that identify plastics and magnets that repel aluminum and attract steel.”

According to Kraus, the new facilities are diverting, in comparison with the old complex, an additional 50 tons of waste each day from the landfill.

Along with the new recycling capabilities, the landfill also helps create electricity via the Lorain Landfill gas-to-energy facility. The plant, created in 2012, uses methane gas radiating from the landfill to power generators. According to Kraus, the plant has “a total capacity of 27 megawatts. Because of this, thousands of homes are served by the facility.”

The importance of recycling has risen steadily over the past decade, as consumers continue to produce an increasing amount of waste. According to GreenWaste, the average person generates over four pounds of trash each day. In 2009, Americans alone produced over 600 million tons of waste — an amount that, were it extricated, would be equivalent to 24 times the Earth’s circumference.

Although Americans tend to recycle approximately 70 percent of their waste, only about 30 percent of the contents of recycling bins actually meet recyclable standards. According to LetsRecycle, waste becomes “recycled” when it is successfully turned into a new product, therefore reducing the consumption of fresh raw materials, greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution. Because this process includes a multitude of transfers between recycling complexes as well as a number of relatively intricate steps, a significant portion of recyclables often get lost in the process

After the recyclables are sorted, bales of plastic and metal from the Lorain County Collection Center are sent to “more than 100 different markets around the country and overseas for remanufacturing into new products,” said Kraus.

Aluminum cans are often used to create airplane parts, and plastic often goes towards bottles and other goods. However, according to Associate Professor of Geology Karla Hubbard, these overseas markets don’t always prove trustworthy.

“A lot of their unused materials are sent to places like India or China, where they say their materials are being recycled, but you can’t be sure,” said Hubbard. “I’m just not sure if there’s a big market for it anymore.”

Although the EPA lists the approximate percentage of Americans with access to curbside or drop-off recycling programs as 87 percent, the amount of plastic and glass goods processed as waste continues to outweigh the amount of goods that become recycled. According to Keep America Beautiful, Americans dispose of 25 million plastic bottles every hour. The number of plastic items found in landfills continuously surpasses the number of goods made from any other material. Plastic, which takes approximately 700 years to break down, is the leading constituent of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch — a gyre of waste located in the Pacific Ocean, whose size is predicted to be up to twice that of the continental United States.

While plastic waste continues to increase, the amount of recycled paper had been steadily rising over the past several decades. According to GreenWaste, the amount of paper recycled had increased over 89 percent since 1990. Advocates for Environmental Sustainability, such as Oberlin College’s Sustainability Coordinator Bridget Flynn, reiterate the importance of sustainable recycling methods.

“There are places around Oberlin to further recycle, even if it takes some searching,” said Flynn. “There’s [a] lot of other places like Drug Mart that can recycle plastic bags, [which are unable to be processed at the local recycling complex]. Oberlin alone has about 12 cardboard recycling dumpsters. So Oberlin students can definitely find ways to recycle better.”