What happens to glass, plastics, aluminum and paper products once you place them in your recycling “Rosie”?
Officials at the Lexington-Fayette County Urban County Government Recycling Center on Thompson Road are answering this question by opening the center doors for tours. Tours are typically offered about four times a year but can be scheduled as requested.
“We’re trying to get more people out to see the actual process so they know where their materials go after they put them in their Rosie,” said Lauren Monohan, tour guide and intern with the LFUCG Recycling Center.
“We think that actually seeing how we do it and actually seeing the big mountain of recyclables really gives a different perspective on recycling,” added Esther Moberly, recycling program specialist.
The center most recently opened its doors to the public during the first week of July to help answer some of these questions.The tour began at the front of the center, where trucks enter and are weighed, then pull through and dump everything they’ve picked up during the day.
Once everything is dumped onto the “tipping floor,” a bulldozer sifts through the giant pile and removes anything that could be a danger to employees or the center’s equipment.
From the tipping floor, the remaining pile gets moved through to the next phase of the process, which includes the optical sorter – a machine that uses puffs of air to separate plastic from the other materials, based on weight, Monohan said.
Eventually, once the materials are separated, they are compacted into large bails and set out to ship.
Plastic pill bottles were one item that could be easily spotted on the center’s conveyor belts. This is an item that the center does not accept, so they encourage people to bring pill bottles to one of the routine Med Toss events that LFUCG offers for safe disposal.
In addition to pill bottles, the LFUCG center is unable to accept plastics such as bottle tops and some thicker plastics. For this reason, Monohan suggested, check on the center’s website or follow the guidelines listed on the recycling and waste pamphlets distributed by the LFUCG Department of Environmental Quality Division of Waste Management.
However, Moberly said she hopes the center will expand within the next few years to a bigger site, allowing more types of items to be recycled, Moberly said.
“The problem is, right now our recycling center really cannot handle much more of a variety. So, we do have plans and aspirations of building a new recycling center that will accommodate that,” he said.
For now, every inch of the center’s current space is being used, Monohan said. Some bails of plastic and aluminum products have to be stored outside for short periods due to space issues until they are picked up or shipped to sell.
During the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the recycling center a 75 percent increase in the tons of recyclable materials being brought in, Moberly said.
New equipment has helped increase capacity and efficiency at the center and helped to accommodate the increase in materials.
“The new equipment allowed is to go from running 8 tons an hour to triple that at 24 tons an hour,” Moberly said.
The center also has trucks that run twice a day in the downtown area to pick up recycling from bars and restaurants to make recycling as easy as possible for these businesses. While the center’s efforts to increase convenience have pushed more businesses to recycle, the financials benefits provide another incentive for business owners to make the extra effort.
“Those businesses that are really recycling well, especially if they produce a lot of cardboard and are very good at training their staff, they could see a financial incentive in the sense of a reduction in their waste hauling fees,” Moberly said. “Businesses pay for the rental of the dumpsters for trash and the tipping or landfill fee for that material. If they switch to recycling, they will still have to pay for the rental of their dumpster, but they don’t have to pay for the tipping of that dumpster.”
Though many downtown businesses recycle, the center is trying to reach even more companies to increase or improve their recycling programs.
“We’re getting ready to really start going after businesses that are large producers and do even more education and outreach to downtown businesses, because we are still missing a good chunk of businesses that are not recycling as much as they should or could,” Moberly said.
Another long-term goal for LFUCG recycling is to work toward making Lexington a zero-waste city.
“Our goal as a city is to go zero-waste, or to be as close to zero-waste as possible. Zero-waste is more of an ideal. It’s definitely a great goal to go towards,” Moberly said. “The first step would be to have a city-wide plan, to actually put it on paper. Right now, it’s an aspiration, we just don’t have it on paper, to get a whole buy-in of the city and get everybody on board.
Call LexCall at 311 to inquire about tours or with questions. Visit lexington.gov for more information about LFUCG’s recycling program.
Photos by Jill Seelmeyer