By Mary Harrington

Many people are skeptical about the City of Atlanta’s recycling program. They wonder how all the mixed up recyclables collected from their curbside recycling carts and bins can actually be recycled and speculate that the mixed recyclables are really going to the landfill.

The truth is, if it’s recyclable, it gets recycled (but if it’s non-recyclable garbage it’s still garbage even if you put it in the recycling container).

“Single stream recycling” is the term used to describe the system where all recyclables are put into one container.  This system became very popular in the last decade when the realization was made that more people recycle more when they don’t have to separate the recyclables into different containers.

Initially, the people who collected the recyclables at the curb did the separation, but this proved to be too time consuming and labor intensive. So, the companies that want the recyclables invested in systems and technologies designed to separate the mixed recyclables into separate “streams.”

In this system the mixed material is dumped onto the floor of the processing facility where a small bulldozer scoops up loads and pours the mixed recyclables onto a conveyer belt. The material is carried through magnets, blowers, and other mechanical and human sorters until all the mixed recyclables are separated into different bins. The materials are then baled or packed and sent to end users in Georgia, other parts of the US, or world. The recyclables you put at the curb are used by manufacturers in place of their ‘virgin’ counterparts.

One thing to note: processors do not want plastic bags in the recycling loads (either by themselves or to contain the recyclables). While plastic bags that come from stores and dry cleaners are recyclable, they should be taken to participating stores and put into specifically identified recycling boxes. Plastic bags are lightweight so fly around the processing facility and get caught in expensive processing machinery. Consider using reusable bags for your purchases and dry cleaning, but if you must use plastic bags, recycle them in specified boxes at local stores.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.