Behind the Blue Bin -Why can’t we recycle more? A peek inside TFC’s Recycling Plant

November 6, 2011

A nasty Nor’easter stormed into the Tidewater area on Friday, October 28th, as did heaps of paper, plastic, glass and metal into the TFC Recycling facility as their 3:30 shift began. At once, thousands of mechanical gears went into motion and dozens of workers assigned to assure quality control of the operation sift through the morass of recyclables hurried through the line on conveyor belts.

Recycling facilities are not for the faint at heart, yet, considering the volume of material that comes through the Chesapeake location (something to the tune of 40 tons an HOUR for 16 hours a day, according to TFC’s Nicholas Larron), it appears as if single stream recycling is handled as efficiently as possible.

Why is that good news? Well, because our wonderful College sends our recyclable material (well, most of it; we’ll discuss this later) here. I did not manage to spot any Flat Hats or Informers in the newspaper area of the facility, but rest assured, this place could handle five William and Marys worth of recycling.

Ignoring the nearly absurd amount of material that gets sorted, the process is really quite simple. TFC simply collects alike items into bundles for shipment to vendors who reprocess the material in question. It is important to remember, however, exactly WHAT can be recycled within the program that the College has signed up for.

TFC collects a wide spectrum of material, yet the College’s recycling policy is specifically tailored to fit what items the company receives in its single-stream warehouse, the building in which I witnessed the processes at work. Other warehouses take care of high-grade paper, plastics from packaging, and other plastics are associated with more durable items (there were a few bales of water coolers which Larron explained come from local visitors). Single-stream recycling, the program that the College uses, does not include these other special capabilities.

The reason comes down to what else—money. It is simply too expensive to send one of TFC’s 140 trucks to Williamsburg at least once a week to pick up specialized items that unfortunately cannot be handled already by the specific system the College uses. The College would need to pay more for increased recycling services from TFC.

After a few years around the issue of recycling on-campus, I have to point out that this understanding has not made it back to the community. In talking with my classmates and colleagues, many express dissatisfaction with the recycling program, requesting that TFC be more flexible with the items they accept. The new phenomenon of placing bins and boxes for more and more specific items for recycling through other vendors run the risk of causing confusion as to what items go in which bin. Yet the issue is not in what TFC is willing to accept; they have a great amount of capabilities. The key is in what is economically feasible for the College to send to TFC for recycling.


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By Jamison Shabanowitz

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Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact Madeleine Boel, Committee on Sustainability Web Assistant, at mgboel@email.wm.edu.
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