Initial Research: Basics of Recycling

Explain, at a basic level, how the stream of consumer waste products are handled, including recycling, landfill, and composting

  • Recycling
    • Once the plastics are collected they are brought to a warehouse where they are sorted based on the different MRFs and different types of plastics.
    • These plastics are sorted in order for the next step. These plastics are then washed and sometimes melted depending on what type of plastic it is to be made into new materials.
    • Here is a visual of the recycling process:

  • Landfill
    • Landfills are also an effective way to discard waste.
    • The landfill works by collecting the trash and bringing it to the landfill. Once there the trash will be compacted into its own “cell.”
    • These cells are layered on top of one another and covered by soil once they are completed.
    • Two products are made through the process of decomposing waste. Methane gas and Leachate.
      • The methane gas will be stored in pipes in a tank near the landfill.
      • This gas can be used again as a renewable energy source.
      • The Leachate liquid that is created from the decomposing waste and this liquid is also scored in tanks near the landfill.
  • Composting
    • Composting is the final waste process that will be discussed. 
    • Composting is done using food scraps that people create during their lives. 
    • This food will be taken to a central outside location where it will be left for a period of time as it breaks down.
    • This food waste will break down into nutrient rich soil that can be used to grow plants.

Understand and explain the complexity of the current recycling system(s) in place in the USA, including inputs, outputs, and its limitations

  • In 2018, China’s National Sword policy banned the import of most plastics and other materials that were not up to new, more stringent purity standards
    • Recycling costs in US shot upwards, many municipalities closed/limited recycling programs
  • US ships more than 1 million tons of plastic waste abroad annually
    • A majority of this plastic never gets properly recycled
  • Vast majority of recyclable plastics do not get recycled
    • Only 29% of PET bottles (#1) are collected for recycling, only 21% are actually recycled (contamination)
  • Cheaper to burn recyclable materials than recycle them
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Understand and explain the current options for electronics recycling in the USA

  • There are multiple recycling options for electronics in the MS. 
  • One is to bring the old electronics (phones, batteries, etc.) to a drop off center where the electronics will be recycled in masses. 
  • Another option is a tech firm that can take in these old electronics. Many tech firms will offer many incentives to have these electronics dropped off
  • Source:,

Understand and explain the way landfills are used in the USA, including regulations and limitations

  • Majority of Municipal Solid Waste placed into landfills annually

  • Landfills enclosed to prevent toxins from leaking out into surrounding soils and water supplies
        • Clay & flexible linings
        • Ground water monitoring
        • Closed & sealed landfills must continually be monitored
        • Subtitle D of RCRA
  • Landfills produce methane, which can be harvested for power generation (explosive, greenhouse gas)
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