Materials Recovery Facilities and the Challenge of Soft Plastics: The Role They Play in Solid Waste Management
April 22, 2020
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Climate change is a serious issue resulting from pollution and a lack of discipline and accountability. Everyone from all levels of society needs to reflect on the state of our environment brought about by consumerism and greed.
Instead of blaming and pointing fingers, government officials, business leaders, and ordinary citizens should work together to find long-term solutions.
This is where material recovery facilities come in to save the day. We all have an innate responsibility to do our part to protect the environment and conserve natural resources. That is why it is necessary to learn more about MRFs and the crucial role they play in solid waste management.
The Lowdown on Material Recovery Facilities
MRFs are plants that help with solid waste management. A Material Recovery Facility addresses the management of pollution and garbage segregation. They also aid in reclaiming reusable materials and resources which are then sold to end buyers in different industries.
There are three types called clean MRFs, dirty MRFs, and wet MRFs. All of them use mechanical tools, precision equipment, and manual labor to separate and process recyclable items and ship them.
A clean material recovery facility only accepts and processes single-stream recyclable materials. Weekly curbside pickups are scheduled in residential areas and commercial zones.
A Clean MRF has an exponentially higher recovery rate than the other types. These plants remove contaminated materials and nonrecyclables which account for less than 10% of the total waste they take in.
A dirty materials recovery facility takes in a wider stream of unsorted solid trash. Sifting through the garbage for recyclables is done manually.
An advantage of having both dirty and clean MRFs is that they act as the last line of defense for recyclables. They prevent them from ending up in unsanitary landfills, compost pits, or worse, the ocean.
The disadvantage is that they are more expensive to run due to the increased need for expert staff and physical labor.
Hydraulic equipment and water pressure are used by wet materials recovery facilities. They employ a process that cleans the contaminated materials mixed with the recyclables. It also jumpstarts the biodegradation process of organic garbage.
The Process: From A to Z
It is inevitable for humans to generate tons of trash every day, and it is a good thing that material recovery facilities are here to mitigate these alarming figures.
Below is the whole process from starting from curbside pickups to the final stage of packaging and shipment where reclaimed materials are taken to a more specialized and specific materials recycling facility.
Pick up & Delivery to a Material Recovery Facility
Haulers pick up recycling bins in residential areas and business establishments. The massive trucks then head straight to their designated materials recovery facility to unload their haul.
Loading to Conveyors
Tons of garbage are put onto a conveyor belt, where workers methodically remove impurities like wire and organic debris. These items need to be eliminated to prevent any complications down the line.
Sortation of Materials
Cardboard & Paper
Cardboard and paper products are sorted out first by large wheels. Heavy materials fall through and continue down the conveyor belt.
Powerful magnets pick up chunks of steel to one bin, and a strong eddy current draws aluminum and other non-ferrous metals to another.
Glass such as bottles and jars are separated using a density blower that diverts light plastics. The heavier glass unaffected by the blower continues down the belt to be pummeled and pulverized into fine, crushed glass known as a cullet.
Plastics are the last to be sorted, using optical sensors and lasers to identify the resin type and sort each piece into its corresponding bin.
After sorting all the trash categorically, they are compacted into bales. A specialized recycling facility will then receive them for further processing. The end result produces basic components and raw materials to be used in manufacturing.
Soft Plastics: The Bane of Materials Recovery Facilities
A material recovery facility must deal with many recyclables and pollutants on a regular basis. The use of soft plastics is a frequent issue.
Soft plastics are made of layers of different polymers that can resemble paper in some aspects. This makes it difficult, costly, and time-consuming to identify and sort them out.
Although the equipment to scan and classify plastics exists, it is still better to fix the root of the problem rather than its byproduct.
What Can We Do to Help Our Materials Recovery Facilities?
MRFs can only do so much when it comes to recycling and solid waste management, which is why everyone should pitch in and help make the world a better place.
Biodegradable, recyclable, and compostable are sustainable product packaging options being offered by many manufacturers. Businesses, especially those in the food industry, should adopt these types of packaging for their products.
Ordinary people can also ban single-use soft plastic bags in their homes. It is possible to reduce carbon footprint by utilising reusable tote bags and recyclable packaging in the home.
Going the extra mile of cleaning recyclable material and properly sorting them is a great way of helping materials recovery facilities with the sorting and separation process. It is paramount for individuals to segregate their trash diligently, especially recyclable soft plastics, so they do not end up in landfills, clogged sewage systems, and important bodies of water.
Most Coles, Woolworths, and other high-traffic stores have soft plastic collection bins. Redcycle, a Melbourne-based recycling organisation, hauls them off. They also offer consultations and implement a recovery initiative for post-consumer soft plastic.
Join the Green Initiative
Our environmental state should worry everyone around the world. Torrential rains, forest fires, landslides, and melting polar ice caps are a testament to that.
As consumers, we share part of the guilt and blame because of the amount of waste we produce during our lifetimes. But we can still turn things around if we act now. It might overwhelm some but as long as we work together with our local MRFs, change can still happen.
We can all take a stand today and decide to make a conscious effort to start making the change. Reducing carbon footprint, switching to reusable and recyclable materials, and lowering energy consumption. These are all ways to protect the environment. Proactive actions are better than any reactive ones.