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Recently I asked Reed Doyle if he would be interested in a trip to the Chittenden Solid Waste District recycling center on Avenue C in Williston, Vermont. Of course he said "Sure. I love that stuff." We both realized that recycling is always an important subject at Seventh Generation and this would be a legit reason for getting out of the office for a couple of hours.
The specific reason for visiting the recycling center was to learn as much as possible about how plastic bottles like the ones used to hold the Seventh Generation cleaning products fit into the recycling stream. Because we are planning on upgrading our bottles in the near future we need to know about bottle design. What are the dos and don'ts of a plastic bottle's construction that contribute to its ability to flow through the recycling process with ease? Can we ensure that in its basic form it will be used over and over again and that almost none of it will end up in the landfill? Our local facility should be a good place to start this investigation.
Recycling centers like the one in Williston are generally known as the Materials Recovery Facility (also known as the “MRF”, rhymes with smurf). This is where large loads of recyclables from all over northern Vermont are sorted and prepared for market. The MRF is owned by Chittenden Solid Waste District and operated by Casella Waste Management. Although primarily for use by licensed commercial haulers, the MRF also accepts large loads from residents and businesses who want to haul recyclables themselves.
In 2003, CSWD renovated the MRF and purchased new, state-of-the-art equipment to accommodate all in one recycling (also known as single-stream recycling). The new equipment mechanically separates bottles and cans from mixed paper. After the initial sort, workers manually separate the recyclables (except glass) into different material types that are then compacted into bales. Glass is crushed to create aggregate for use locally in a variety of civil engineering applications. The assembly of these bales is where the processing at the local MRF ends. They are then shipped out of state (a story for another day) to large processing facilities where the bottles are further sorted, chopped up and turned into plastic resin that can be used by bottle fabricators. A diagram is worth at least a hundred words...
Can we indeed find a Seventh Generation bottle making its way through the process and learn something useful at the same time? Is this going to be similar to the popular children’s book “Where’s Waldo?” where we are searching for the SG “Waldo” bottle among all the other bottles. Find out for yourself by joining myself and Reed as we march through the MRF facility, exploring the exciting trail of recyclable bottles...