Good Question: Are they really splitting my recycling?

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC)— If you didn’t know, Thursday is Earth Day.

To go along with that, let’s answer something that comes up from time to time.

Here’s one example from a viewer named Cindy. She asked News10NBC’s Brennan Somers: Does the recycling bin with all of its different forms and material eventually just land in the landfill? Who takes all the recycled material and what do they do with it?

Somers spoke with officials at Waste Management, the group in charge of running the Monroe County Recycling Center. They have a ten-year contract to operate it.

This question goes back to a change in 2014 when the facility moved to single-stream recycling or mixed recycling. Paper and other containers are picked up together in one bin. Officials say it’s more efficient, cheaper, and better for the environment.

Still many of you want to know how it works.

A video shows what happens inside our local site. Trucks dump all the mixed recycling into huge piles. It goes onto a series of conveyor belts to be sorted by hand at first for anything that could damage equipment. Then, everything goes through rapidly spinning wheels and screens.

Those sort in order by size and product– pulling out cardboard boxes then a vacuum pulls out paper. What’s left at that point: cans, bottles, jugs, and other containers. A magnet in a large drum pulls out some of them but soda cans aren’t magnetic.

They have their own specialized machine. A rotor spinning at more than 3,000 revolutions a minute creates a current in certain metals like aluminum.

“That current creates a magnetic field in those metals that weren’t magnetic to begin with,” Waste Management’s video states. “This newly created magnetic field opposes the field of the rotor propelling aluminum cans into their own separate storage bunker.”

At that point, all you really have are plastic containers. Those are sorted by hand. Whatever is still left goes through for one more cycle to catch anything missed the first time.

Huge bales of those old items get sold to companies to give them new life as new products. More than 40,000 tons of material get recycled at the county complex each year.


Watch previous Good Question segments here. If you have a question you’d like answered, email