Where Does Your Recycling End Up? Tour of Arcata and Eureka CA Recycling Facility

Posted on October 25, 2008. Filed under: General |

This past Friday I met up with Patti Johnson, Education Specialist for the Arcata and Eureka California Community Recycling Center, to get the behind the scenes tour of their off-site recycling and shipping facility, which is a LEED certified building (which I will elaborate on in a future post).  And to finally answer one of my burning questions…“Where does all that recycling end up anyway?” As I had mentioned in my recent Green Lifestyle post, our local Recycling Center just recently made it even easier for folks to recycle, by reducing the amount of sorting steps. So now, the amount of recyclables they are recieving has tripled since this change went into place.

Eureka CA Recycling Center LEED Certified Building

As Patti showed me around the facility, she explained that although the huge sorting machines have increased their efficiency, they still need real workers to do the actual sorting.  They have about fifteen workers who sort on a daily basis.  So our Arcata and Eureka Recycling Center not only reduces our waste, but has created livable wage jobs with benefits too.Eureka CA Recycling Center Sorting Machine

Line Workers Separate Containers Up Here

Every day all the recyclables from the drop off stations get sent here.  Containers are dumped on one side of the warehouse, while paper products are unloaded on the opposite end.  As I looked across the warehouse at the pile of containers on the ground the amount in front of me seemed smaller than expected.  Patti confirmed my suspicion.  Usually the container pile can fill an entire side of the warehouse.  Most of the pile had already been sorted and crunched into big huge bails early that day.

Containers Pile - Blue Plastic Pail Not Recyclable

So, where do some of our recyclables go?

Well, aluminum cans get shipped to Budweiser and it only takes about Sixty days for those crushed cans to hit the grocery shelves.  Sixty days. Can you believe that?  Plastic bags get sold to Trex, the company that makes the decks that some of you now have in your backyard.  And that’s just for starters. The Arcata and Eureka Recycling Center compacts their recyclables into bails and ships most items down to the bay area to be sent to different companies that reuse and/or convert certain items to other usable products.

Tin Can Bails

Bailer Machine

Patti taught me a few other things too.  I learned that there is quite a bit of trash that gets mixed in with recyclables and she wanted to let folks know that not all plastics are recyclable.

If it doesn’t have a recycling symbol, it’s TRASH.  Same with Styrofoam…even if it has a recyclable sign on it, it too is TRASH.

Also beer caps and yogurt container lids, etc. usually end up going into the trash here when sorted out, even though they are recyclable.  So Patti suggested that you collect all beer caps in a container and keep all lids together with a rubber band.  Then drop those off once you’ve collected enough of them.  It makes it easier for the sorting workers to identify it as recyclable.  Oops.  Well I’ll be sure to make the adjustment.  Thanks Patti!

Even with all the recycling resources available to Eureka and Arcata California residents, there is still an incredible amount that still is ending up in our trash.  It truly is shocking:

Average Local Resident's Daily Trash Contribution

28% paper
45% compostables (vegetables that could be composted)
9% Other (construction materials, batteries, florescent light bulbs, etc.)
5% Metal
9% Plastic
4% Glass

To the right you’ll see Patti holding up a trash bag.  That is about the average amount of trash that one Eureka or Arcata CA resident makes every single day.  Usually a good percentage of that trash is recyclable, but ends up in a landfill instead of this facility.

All of the above items if recycled will reduce the amount we send to the landfills each year.  And although we ship most of our trash out of the area, we once dumped our trash in local landfills.  The most recent landfill that closed in 1999, located between Eureka and Arcata, still needs two full time Humboldt County employees to manage it.  And because all of the trash, especially the veggies you could be composting, creates a tremendous amount of methane, the county has a methane burner that continuously burns off all the excess methane gas produced by all of our trash (and runs 24 hours a day).  Patti explained that if everyone in our community did their part to recycle we would greatly reduce the amount we send to our landfills each year.  Less waste = Healthier Environment and a Healthier Lifestyle.

As my tour came to an end, I thanked Patti and the entire Arcata and Eureka Community Recycling gang for giving me this opportunity to share with you how our recycling system works.  What an truly enlightening experience it has been.

Thanks Patti and Arcata Community Recycling Gang

If you have any questions about what can be recycled or other curious questions you may have, I’d definitely recommend contacting Patti Johnson at 707-445-4321 or visit the Arcata and Eureka Community Recycling Center web site.  By the way, they also have several educational programs for kids in grades K-8 which Patti can tell you more about.

Copyright 2008 Jessica Bigger.  All Rights Reserved. *Where Does Your Recycling End Up?  Tour of Arcata and Eureka CA Recycling Facility*


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