I know... so cool!
I'm currently reading the last book in Margaret Atwood's Maddaddam trilogy, and so this trip comes at an opportune time (building on themes of recycling and post-industrial waste).
Here's the facility, located on Manning Drive in London, ON:
|With this winter's minuscule amount of precipitation you can almost believe that I took this picture myself|
I was super excited to learn what happens to the boxes, bottles, cardboard and cans that I toss into my blue box, but my children were less than enthused:
Me: Kids, it is going to be so interesting; I have always wanted to tour a recycling facility!
Nath: Mum, it's recycling; it's not Disney.
Gwen: Mum, it's a PD day! I can't believe you're wasting our day like this...
Nath: Oh yeah, pop cans are SO awesome (can you hear the sarcasm dripping from the 12-year-old?)
Okay, so the kids weren't thrilled about our little trip. To muster up some interest, I dug out my scrapbook and showed them a recycling project that I did in Grade Five:
|Blue, Colt 45, O.V. and Michelob?|
"How can you not be excited by this?" I asked, thrusting the red poster board in their incredulous faces.
Admittedly, this project is pretty lame, but it's also hilarious. I am imagining myself reaching for a pencil out of my handcrafted pop can pencil holder and slicing my finger off on the sharp, ragged aluminum rim. I do recall making the beer cap brooches (!) but I was at a loss as to how I would have produced the fender cutlery. That would be one giant fork...
Still, the kids were all eye rolls and snark. Please remind me why we feel the need to reproduce?
And so I found myself bribing the children with a Mickey D's breakfast, and being thoroughly disgusted with myself for
- inhaling grease
- bribing the brats
- eating at the world's greatest waste producer in the fast food industry
I'm hanging my head in shame here.
But let me get to the trip.
|image from: http://archive.feedblitz.com/746187/~4244546|
It really is all about the cash, peeps. I wasn't going to let that colour my fun, and so I donned my thick plastic hardhat, safety glasses and ear protection. It was initially difficult to experience such sensory deprivation but I acclimatized quickly enough, recognizing that beauty is indeed pain:
Hard-hatted up, we are ready for the entertainment to begin:
The tour proper began with a hello to this fine fellow:
|What a cutie! And so industrious too|
The kids met Maiike, our patient and knowledgeable tour guide, who spoke a bit about safety and explained that we'd be playing a sorting game before visiting the production floor. The kids were presented with various items that typically appear in the blue bins: glass jars, lightbulbs, half full paint cans, cardboard coffee cups, milk cartons etc. They had to determine whether the items belong in recycling bins, the garbage, Household Special Waste or hazardous waste.
What we learned:
- 90% of the recycling is sold locally to businesses in Southwestern Ontario. Paper coffee cups, which are new additions to the blue box, go to the U.S. while the market for used plastic wrap is in China.
- Paint can be recycled. Loop Paint, in St. Catharines, recycles leftover paint and plants a tree for every gallon sold. I love this! Londoners, take your leftover paint to Rona or Lowe's. For more on paint recycling, click here. For more on recycling batteries, oil, solvents, propane tanks etc, click here.
- Some recycling tips from facility posters:
|aerosol cans go in the bin? who knew?|
|Maiike made a point of telling us that wrapping paper cannot be recycled; it goes in the garbage|
The kids each received an adorable souvenir - a mini blue box!
Here we are, entering the first stage of the facility's production:
|A closer look at the mountain of refuse. The kids had a lot of questions.|
We watched one of the recycling trucks dump its load into the warehouse:
|The truck has separators that allow only one stream of recycling to be unloaded at a time|
Once the truck was empty, a front loader (not pictured) pushed the waste into a gigantic pile:
Our city produces a titanic amount of waste, and the facility is capable of processing up to 75,000 tons per day, but that does not preclude us from trying to decrease our household litter and recycling.
When we stepped onto the production floor, it occurred to me that I've seen too many episodes of Dexter - my initial impression was that this would be an ideal setting for a horror movie:
The sad teddies didn't help either:
|One of many Teddy Bear stuffies in the plant. They must have a thing for stuffies.|
|Taking a page out of Ted, I call this piece "Bear Humping Fan"|
|items entering the magnet|
The air separator divides the remaining recyclables based on weight. A blast of compressed air pushes everything (except the heavy objects such as glass) up and off the conveyor belt and into the air toward the optical sorter:
|watching objects being processed by the optical sorter|
|another view of the optical sorter|
Watching the recyclables race along made me feel slightly ill, like I was on a dodgy spinny ride at the fair. When I was in my late teens, I was employed by my cousin-in-law's sister's husband (how ridiculous is that description?) at a paint factory. I was one of three women out of a total workforce of twelve and I was responsible for hanging the entire day's production "on the line" - fun stuff like mud flap hangers, telephone bases, and riding lawnmower handles. Whenever a deadline had to be met (all the time, it seemed), the powers that be would ratchet up the line to warp speed. It was futile to attempt to keep up. But I tried, dammit. I'm competitive; I couldn't help myself. As I fell farther and farther behind, the other employees would eventually trickle over to help me. As soon as I was caught up, they would abandon me until I fell behind again.
|manual sorters removing garbage; everything remaining on the belt goes through the entire process again|
After sorting, the recyclables are crushed or flattened and shaped into bales. A bale of crushed aluminum cans is a fascinating thing to behold. There are a lot of cans in that bale (9000, I think):
|beware of sharp edges...|
|a bale of cardboard waste, paper exploding out of it|
|The bales of plastic bags earn the facility a mere $10 each|
At the end of the tour, we stopped by two blue bins that were full of an average household's yearly recycling (60%). We can do better than that, I think.
|it doesn't look like much, does it?|
As we exited the facility, I spied this dusty book displayed prominently on a stand by a huge cardboard cutout of a chocolate chip cookie. It made me laugh. I wondered if it had been "rescued" from a blue box, like all those teddy bears...
Our day done, we thanked Maiike, removed our gear and headed out to our vehicles, visions of recycling dancing in our heads.
I would definitely recommend taking a tour of this facility; give them a call. It's open to the public, and it's free. I think it made a big impact on all of us and my kids told me afterwards that they loved it (I knew it).
And so my friends, I will leave you with a brief musical interlude by Jack Johnson - Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, aka Three It's a Magic Number: