The Metrolina Recycling Center, also known as a Material Recovery Facility or MRF, is the County's processing facility that sorts all of the single stream recyclable materials collected from residential curbside programs, schools, and drop-off programs throughout Mecklenburg County. Recyclables brought to the facility are sorted by specialized equipment designed to separate the recyclables. The facility and equipment are owned by Mecklenburg County, the day to day operations are managed by ReCommunity: a privately held company with experience running the operations and preparing the sorted materials for the marketplace. The facility is located at 1007 Amble Drive off of North Graham Street, near I-77 and I-85.
Recycling in Mecklenburg County is as easy as ever. In our County, we have what is called "Single Stream Recycling." Single stream recycling refers to a collection system in which all recyclables are collected together in one container at home, school or at one of the County's full or self-service recycling centers. It's all about "Recycling Right." Be sure you're only putting paper, cardboard, cartons, bottles, jars and cans into your recycling bins. Never place food items, Styrofoam, sandwich bags, chip wrappers, clam shell to-go boxes or garden water hoses in your bins. These items must be placed in the trash. Never place plastic bags in the recycling bin. Plastic bags can be recycled at many retailers. On your recycling day, the recycling bins are wheeled to the curb for pick-up. The recycling truck then comes through neighborhoods collecting the recyclables with large hydraulic arms that pick up the carts and empties the recyclables into the truck. Once the trucks are full, they head to the Metrolina Recycling Center.
The trucks arriving at the facility are first weighed at the scale house. Trucks come from the Mecklenburg County area, including neighborhoods in Charlotte, Huntersville, Mint Hill, Matthews, Cornelius, Davidson, and Pineville, as well as the Full and Self Service Recycling Centers in Mecklenburg County. The recyclable materials collected by the trucks are emptied on the tipping floor. Between 400 and 500 tons of material arrive daily and must be sorted by the network of equipment and people at the facility. The material is pushed from the tipping floor into a hopper, which starts to uncompact the mixed material with a metering drum.
After going through the metering drum, the material moves onto the first of many conveyor belts that quickly move the material. The material first goes through the pre-sort cabin where workers remove as much unaccepted materials as possible from the fast moving conveyor belt. It's very important to keep the unaccepted materials out of the recycling stream as many of these items can create safety hazards, seriously damage machinery, and stop facility operations that decrease efficiency. Next the material moves onto rotating screens which separate the cardboard and fiber products from the other material. Then the material moves on through a system of magnets which separate the steel cans and eddy currents that separate the aluminum cans. Rigid plastic bottles and containers are sorted by optical sorters that use air jets to direct the plastics to the correct bunker. The system is designed to handle basic household recyclables: paper, cardboard, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and jugs.
The recycling facility processes over 30 tons of material per hour. That's 60,000 pounds per hour! After the material is sorted, it is loaded into bunkers. Then, the material types are sent through balers to compact the material into bales to prepare them for sale and shipping. The bales can weigh 1000 to 1500 pounds depending on the material. Baling the material allows for efficient storage and shipping. Glass is the only recyclable material that is not able to be baled. The misguided items that can't be recycled in the system that manage to make it through without causing problems go out as residue into a trash compactor. "Recycling Right" is very important for employee's safety, protecting the machinery, reducing disposal and operating cost, facility efficiency and creating clean bales of marketable materials to be recycled into new items.
The finished bales of recyclable material are sold and shipped to manufactures who process the bales into new items. The value of the bales of the recyclables is directly related to the commodity market. Depending on the economics and demand for the material type, the bales of recyclable material may be shipped to local, regional or even global processing plants. Paper and fiber products are shipped to paper mills that make new paper products. The bales of aluminum cans are typically recycled into new aluminum cans. The bales of steel cans are melted down and turned into new steel materials by metal processors. The bales of plastic are ground by plastic processors into plastic pellets. The processors turn the plastic pellets into new plastic products or are even processed into textiles to become carpet or fleece clothing. Purchasing products that are made with recycled content completes the recycling loop.
The Metrolina Recycling Center also offers group tours that will allow you to see this amazing process for yourself and learn more about recycling and how it all works.