MADISON (WKOW) -- Many of us want to do our part to help the environment and one of the easiest ways is to recycle. But there are still a lot of things going into landfills simply because people don't know they can be recycled.
That's because technology keeps changing, adding to things you can put in your recycling cart. Up until recently, most of our recycling got shipped out of town to be sorted, but now there's a new state of the art sorting machine inside Pellitteri Waste Systems in Madison. If your recycling ends up there, you can now put things like pots and pans and plastic bags, right into your recycling cart.
Krissy Newman and her family have been recycling for years, so they pretty much have it down. They fill their recycling cart every two weeks.
Everything the Newman family puts into their recycling cart ends up in a pile at Pellitteri Waste Systems. It's transferred into their Material Recovery Machine and begins its journey along a conveyor belt to be sorted. 27 News got an exclusive look inside the facility where the MRF sorts recyclable materials.
First, workers remove loose plastic bags and anything that shouldn't have been put in the cart. David Pellitteri has a reminder for people who put non-recyclable items in the recycling. "People that live in your community work here, and they have to pull the diapers out and pull the stuff that's not supposed to be in there and it's not a pleasant job when stuff like that gets in the system." They're also taking out anything that can wrap around the machine, like hoses or clothing.
The recyclables then move on to get sorted. The first screen removes the cardboard from the pile; the next will take out any glass, then paper. Each go into separate bins. Up the conveyor belt, a magnet removes things like soup and vegetable cans. An electrical current shoots soda cans into another bin.
All that's left are plastics and even those are separated. They travel through a computer that identifies which number plastic it is, then a blast of air moves it into the correct bin.
As scientific as the machine is, there are workers all along the line for quality control. Pellitteri says, "They're there taking out a plastic bag that got through or a piece of cardboard that got into the paper or metal that got into the plastic."
Each bin gets compressed into a bale, then shipped to other facilities, like a paper mill, to be made into something new.
It's changing the way many of us recycle, like Krissy's family. If your recycling bin ends up at Pellitteri too, you can put more in your cart. That includes all plastics, including dairy tubs and produce containers. Put plastic bottles in there with the lids on now. George Dreckmann with the City of Madison says plastics bags can go in the cart now too, but you have to do it a certain way. "We now take plastic bags inside a bag. You want to take plastic, that can be newspaper, bread bags, put those plastic bags inside it and tie it shut." That means if your plastics bags are in your cart loosely, they won't get recycled.
Pellitteri's machine can also handle pots and pans, empty metal paint cans, small metal appliances or plumbing fixtures. Those can all go into your recycling bin now.
One of the most important things is to not put materials inside other items to make room in your cart. For example, the machine can't sort out a plastic bottle that's inside a tin can. There's one exception: you do want to put shredded paper inside a plastic bag and it should be smaller than a basketball.
Any materials that have food on it, should be cleaned as much as possible. That includes pizza boxes. If you have parts that are clean, go ahead and recycle it. Otherwise, cardboard with grease on it, should be thrown out in the trash.
Krissy's got it right: keep everything in the bin loose and separate, and don't crush anything to save space. Dreckmann says, "The more people understand the system, they more they're likely to use it."
Pellitteri is helping get the word out to families and companies it serves, with a new education center. The company will give tours to the public and students to teach them about its sorting facility.
Pellitteri does the recycling for a lot of Dane County, but you should always check with your own county and municipality about what and how to recycle, because it might go to a different facility with a different way of sorting.
If you want a full list of what you can recycle in Madison, head to the city's website here.
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