ReThink Waste Tour

ReThink Waste Tour

If you’re an avid follower of the LMOI blog, you’ll notice I mentioned twice in previous posts about my ReThink Waste Tour in the fall of 2014. I wanted to share some photos and information with you from that day and encourage you to to find out if your local recycling and waste management centers offer free tours. This is a great way to learn more about what you can do to lessen your waste footprint, and is great for children and adults alike. In fact, the age range on my tour was from toddlers to seniors, and ranged from families to school groups to professionals. The tour lasted about an hour and a half and I got a lot of questions answered. It was also fascinating to see what happens to your recyclables, trash and compost once they leave your curb!

A glimpse into the ReThink Waste center in San Mateo.

I was super impressed to learn that the machinery in the center cost about a million dollars! The machines help sort the various products and what the machines fail to sort, the human workers sort. I don’t know how they do it, those belts move pretty quickly!

The brain of the operation with the human workers.

The center was a maze of conveyor belts and machines, but the tour guide did a great job of explaining each step of the process, which is clearly well thought out. At this location (in San Carlos), they offer the opportunity to drop off books for recycling, certain light bulbs which need to be recycled (others are hazardous waste – I’ll get to that in a future post), ‘sharps’ (or medical needles), among others. If you have trash items, you can pay $30 to ‘dump’ your items in the trash portion of the center, where they also have their compost section.

A maze of conveyor belts carries the recyclables throughout the center.

More conveyor belts in the 'maze' at ReThink Waste in San Carlos.

Cardboard sorting section of the recycling center.

Again, the most important thing that our tour guide said was, “When you put something in the garbage, your hands are the last things that touch it. We do not sort your trash. Please be conscious of what you throw out.” That’s why it’s so important to take little steps to lessen the waste we put in the garbage, and try to compost and recycle more than we trash. The first step is to consider this even before you purchase an item to bring into your home.

(You can barely hear our tour guide speaking over the noise of the machinery)

While much of our local trash goes to a nearby landfill, many centers across the US are shipping their refuse to other countries. These countries are more than willing to bring our trash back, thanks to the high cost of doing business overseas. It costs a fraction of the price to bring items over from China and India (for example) to sell in the US, but the cost of returning those shipping containers is high. Rather than sending containers back empty at the high cost, these countries agree to bring back our trash, recycling and e-waste in order to justify the shipping costs. You never know where your items are going to end up, which is why it’s even more important to be conscious before you even bring an item into your home.

The belts move so quickly through the center! They process a lot of recyclables in a full 8 hour day!

Some of the machines vibrate so paper/cardboard fall through to another section, while cans/containers and other items move through the belts.

Bundled paper ready to be recycled into new paper.

The compost pile was very interesting. They spray the compost items to keep the dust/debris to a minimum. It also helps to initiate the decomposition of the items (which naturally produce heat, or steam). These piles are then scooped into a trunk that drives underground to take it off to the landfill. Composting is a new concept for me (I’ve only been doing it for three months), but I really like it. A lot of the waste I produce can be composted – is the same true for you?

The compost pile. Can you see the steam?

Moving the compost piles into the underground dump truck (headed for the landfill).

Whatever you do, just implement some small changes and see what kind of positive change you can make. What changes are you thinking of trying? If you do end up going on a tour of your local waste management place, I’d love to hear your story!

Lauren Mang
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