Recycling a good column

Published 7:06 pm Monday, April 5, 2010

Yes, I know, I just wrote a column about recycling about five weeks ago.

However, after taking a tour of the TFC Recycling processing center last week (see the story in Sunday’s paper), I was blown away by how the process is almost completely automated.

Ed Farmer, TFC’s vice president for business development, was kind enough to take an hour out of his day on Thursday to take me through the vast network of conveyor belts, machines, separating devices and walkways that constitute the facility on Diamond Hill Road in Chesapeake.

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The place was dirty, dusty, hot and smelly, but I guess that’s the price these folks pay to keep hundreds of tons of trash per day out of the Suffolk landfill. I’m still thinking about recommending it to Mike Rowe and the Discovery Channel for a “Dirty Jobs” episode. I felt like a giant, walking dust bunny when I left there.

According to Farmer, the majority of the dust is tiny shreds of cardboard that fly into the air during the recycling process, and eventually settle down onto machines, walkways, workers and unwitting reporters who are just looking for a good story.

At TFC’s Chesapeake facility, no actual recycling is done — that is, they don’t turn old Mountain Dew cans into new Coca-Cola cans there in Chesapeake. They only have the monumental job of taking the loads that come from surrounding cities, separating the recyclables and non-recyclables, then separating the recyclables again into different types — cardboard, mixed paper, Nos. 1 and 2 plastic bottles, glass bottles, steel, tin and aluminum cans and aluminum foil.

Throughout my tour, I learned several ways that we all can help those working in recycling facilities — aside from signing up for TFC’s Suffolk program.

First of all, the plastic bottles we throw in the recycling program shouldn’t still have the caps on them. They can cause a danger to workers in the recycling facility when they pop off during the loading or baling process.

Also, don’t put recyclables in any plastic bag, such as a grocery bag or garbage bag. The workers don’t have time to unwrap the bags to see what’s in them, so they wind up just throwing the entire bag in the trash.

Finally, check with the company doing the recycling and see exactly what kind of things can be recycled — and put only those things in the bin. Anything that doesn’t belong in the system can take up workers’ time, clog up machines or, worse, pose a danger to workers — like the propane tank that came to the tipping floor while I was there.

To register online for curbside recycling through TFC, or for more information, visit www.tfcrecycling.com/suffolk. The company now also has a Facebook fan page. Those who sign up for the program do not have to give their billing information until after the 3,000-household threshold is met.