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Secrets from the Sort Line

Have you ever wondered what happens to your recycling after it is collected? At the Material Recovery Facility, workers on the sort line spend hours each day sorting the material by hand. This job involves some unpleasant surprises, ripping open bags of material, and wondering what hazards may be hidden in the recycling.

To find out more about what really happens on the sort line, we talked to Heather. Heather has been working on the sort line for 9 years. When we asked her why she loves her job and she said “Honestly, the people that are here. It’s not always a whole lot of fun job and it can be sticky and hot but it’s the people that make it bearable.”

Heather is the line lead. This means that she is responsible for dividing up people and assigning them to either the containers or the fibers line. Once everyone is divided up they go up to the lines and start sorting. One thing Heather wants residents to know is that you need to be careful about what you put in the blue boxes. “Watch what you put in your blue box, we know it’s easier to put everything in one bag, but when you have cardboard and plastic in one bag it makes it much harder. What people don’t realize is that we have to lines, one for paper and one for plastics. When you are on one line you don’t have a place to put the things that don’t belong there.”  The sort line is the third and final step before material gets shipped off to be processed and recycled. Sorting the material is a crucial step. “If I don’t sort it, it’s going to end up in the landfill.” This is another reason Heather is proud of the work she does in our facility.

We asked Heather what she was most surprised about when she first started 9 years ago and she said “The amount of garbage that comes in. When I first started I was excited to save the environment for my children. And we still are trying to save the environment but we still get a lot of garbage and medical waste coming up on the lines.”

Medical waste is a huge problem we have in our facility. It is so crucial that people dispose of their medical waste properly in order to not pose a health risk to our employees. Medical waste is one thing that they don’t like coming down the line, but medical waste isn’t the worst of what gets sent down the line. When we asked what the craziest thing Heather has ever seen come down the line she said “ Well one thing you learn on the sort line is that if a bag is squishy, don’t open it, just throw it out. Well we had a new guy and he didn’t know any better and he opened it and honest to god a dead pig rolled out. But this has happened before we’ve had dead roosters, and dead puppies, adult diapers, and baby diapers. Another thing we get a lot is dirty toilet paper”

These are all things that get put in the blue box that sometimes drivers don’t catch because they are buried or hidden in the blue

boxes and the next step in the process are the sorters. The people on the sort line see a lot of things that they shouldn’t have to, but it all starts with the residents. When we asked Heather if there is one thing she would like to say to residents she said “Please take the time to be considerate, sort your stuff a little better, cut your cardboard down to handling size. Learn your information by going to the website and following the facebook page. And that would help us out a great deal.”

Supporting the sort all begins at home. Being mindful about what you’re putting in the blue box, rinsing your recycling and not putting hazardous material in the blue box really makes a big difference.  “Its a joint effort and you know we all need this earth for as long as we’re here, so let’s work together.”