GreenTown Los Altos

GreenTown Volunteers Tour Los Altos’ Recycling Facility


Mar 2011


On Monday, March 7, GreenTown Los Altos volunteers toured Alameda County Industries (ACI), the recycling facility used by the City of Los Altos’ solid waste and recycling hauler, Mission Trail Waste Systems (MTWS). Louie Pellegrini, co-owner of ACI and MTWS, gave the tour. Teresa Montgomery, outreach coordinator for MTWS, who helped organize the visit, and Denise Donahue, in charge of MTWS’ commercial sales, joined us for the tour. Check out photos from the day.

GreenTown Los Altos members and Mission Trail staff

In the ACI process, all commingled recyclables collected at curbside are delivered onto the floor of the facility and then moved by front-end loaders to a conveyor, where the sorting process begins. A combination of hand-picking by employees and automated sorting follows. Hand pickers pull off of the conveyor: (i) those items that are problematic for the huge automated sorter to handle, (ii) materials that contaminate the final bales of recyclables, and (iii) trash.

We saw workers pulling off large pieces of cardboard and funneling them into a bin for later recycling. Plastic bags were pulled off to reduce contamination of the paper recycling stream. Because of their low weight, these products tend to follow paper and high-value plastics (numbers 1 and 2) through the automated sorting process. Workers also pulled trash, off the line. We witnessed workers wrestling with a rather awkward set of broken and discarded vinyl blinds, which were ultimately, trashed.

Next the recyclables goes through a series of blowers and magnets to separate out specific materials. Heavy glass falls into a recycling hopper while paper and plastic bottles are blown up and into a stream of their own for later separation. A magnet pulls out the metal cans. Once separated, cardboard, paper, HDPE and PET plastics, miscellaneous plastic, glass and metal are each baled and shipped to manufacturers who use the materials to create packaging or other products.

“Everyone should be required to do this once a year!” says Barbara O’Reilly, a tour participant. Indeed! The experience certainly makes you more mindful of what you put in the recycling bin. The recycling tour revealed that certain waste products are very difficult to successfully process as recyclables: the main culprit being plastic bags!

Currently, about 15 percent of what comes in as recycling ends up in the landfill as “residue” from the recycling process. We can help reduce this number. Here are our main take-aways from the tour:

  • Buy less packaging! You can start by buying less, reusing more, bringing your own bags and purchasing items in bulk.
  • Recycle plastic bags at the grocery store. If you do end up with plastic bags (and they are ubiquitous), bring them to your local grocery store drop-off for recycling. These stores typically get a much cleaner stream of plastic bags than our recycling contractor can. Plastic bags recycled from grocery stores end up as plastic lumber. Plastic bags in the residential recycling stream, often end up as contaminants of other recyclable materials.
  • Read your recycling guideMTWS Residential Services Guide (Los Altos) and GreenWaste’s Recycle Guide (Los Altos Hills) tell us what we can and can’t put in the recycling, compost and trash bins.
  • Trash the trash. Don’t throw trash in the recycling bin! Of course, one person’s trash is often another person’s treasure. If it’s in decent condition or can be salvaged, see if you can give it away on Los Altos’ freecycle.

By Margie Suozzo


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