On Tuesday morning Mary Beth, Steve and I toured Recycle America, the industrial recycling facility that manages those materials from WFU and the Winston Salem municipal recycling program. The aging facility was opened in 1990 and will be closing in late spring or early summer when RA moves to its new, highly-automated facility.

The current operation is mostly manual; material is dumped onto a conveyor belt which draws it up a long incline, then through a level area where workers at different stations select specific materials off the belt, such as aluminum cans and particular types of plastic. Magnets remove steel cans.

Once separated materials are baled, loaded onto tractor-trailer trucks, and shipped to companies that will process and re-use the materials. Bales are big, heavy and very densely packed; a bale of paper might weigh 2 tons. The Winston Salem facility is separating, baling and shipping a ton of steel and 20 tons of cardboard every day. Steel and aluminum generally get shipped north to industrial cities like Pittsburgh, paper goes to paper mills in eastern N. Carolina, and the various plastics are shipped all over the world via the port at Wilmington.

Winston Salem, in conjunction with Recycle America, is implementing a single-bin program for residential recycling which will relieve homeowners of the need to separate their recyclables into separate bins. Further, the new large bins will allow RA to conduct curb-side pick-up every other week, rather than weekly. The new collection program is being done in concert with the construction of Recycle America’s new single stream recycling facility, which will use technology to do much of the sorting. By RA standards, it will be a relatively small facility, in proportion to the size of Winston Salem’s population. The company hopes that this modest facility will be profitable; if it is, the company will replicate this business model in other similarly-sized cities. To date, only large cities have warranted highly automated facilities.

The facility’s manager told us that the current facility processes about 60 million pounds of material each year. That’s 60 million pounds of garbage that didn’t go to a landfill. Even better, municipalities that transition to single stream recycling programs similar to the one we’re about to begin commonly experience a 35% increase in recycling participation by households; so next year we should expect to divert even more garbage. That’s very good news for our community.

Here’s a chart from the City of Winston Salem with guidelines for recycling glass, plastic and metal items from your home. Please recycle.

Aluminum Beverage Cans
  • Rinse
  • NO Aluminum foil, pie tins or scraps
Glass Bottles and Jars (clear, green and brown)
  • Remove caps/lids and discard
  • Rinse containers
  • NO ceramics, dishes, drinking glasses, light bulbs, mirrors, Pyrex, window glass, or any glass that is not a container.
Plastic Bottles and Jugs (clear and colored)
  • The neck of the container must be smaller than the base or widest part.
  • Remove caps and discard.
  • Rinse. Flatten to conserve space
  • NO bottle caps or tops; antifreeze, pesticide, motor oil or other hazardous material containers; containers that are not bottles, such as deli or yogurt containers, margarine tubs,or flower pots;wide-mouth prescription bottles; plastic bags of any type; plastic wrap, Styrofoam.
Steel Food and Beverage Cans
  • Rinse
Aerosol Cans
  • Empty aerosol cans and remove plastic tops.
    NO paint cans.