Where's it Go? - Recology Yuba Sutter
California Cont.
Where’s it Go?

After it Leaves the Curb..

People sometimes have difficulty envisioning how commingled bottles and cans are segregated after collection, or how cardboard is separated from mixed paper.

The sorting process for recyclables takes place at the Integrated Waste Recovery Facility (IWRF) at the Yuba-Sutter Transfer Station in Marysville. Collection trucks from residential homes enter the IWRF and are weighed on a certified truck scale. After the weight is logged into a computer, collection trucks empty the recyclable materials in a designated area. Recyclables are moved along elevated conveyor belts and are sorted manually. Although mechanical devices that separate materials are commercially available, manual separation by skilled sorters is an extremely reliable and adaptable way to segregate materials for a changeable commodities market, and for maximum diversion to help our community meet AB939 goals.

Once segregated by type, recyclable materials (except glass) are moved onto another conveyor line that feeds into a compacting unit. Sorted recyclables are compressed into large cubes – or bales – weighing approximately 1,500 pounds each. Bales of like materials are stored together until there are enough bales to fill a shipping container or semi-truck. (Sorted glass is collected into 40-cubic yard containers for shipment to glass mills.) Recyclable materials collected and processed by Recology Yuba-Sutter are shipped to manufacturing plants around the world to be made into new items.

Collection trucks also pick up the green recycling carts that contain the yard waste from residential homes and are weighed on a certified truck scale. After the weight is logged into a computer, the yard waste is taken to a central location and is used in our composting operation. The weight of the yard waste is important for the diversion number needed in meeting the state mandated goal of 50%. If a blue or green cart is contaminated with non-recyclable material, the contents must go straight to the landfill, and the diversion numbers are not applicable.


Putting plastic bags in the blue and green recycling carts hurts the recycling effort. This is the story of how a lightweight grocery bag becomes a heavyweight problem at the Yuba-Sutter Transfer Station. For years we have asked residents to put garbage into plastic bags before dumping it in garbage carts. This lesson has been well learned as this practice is second nature to most of us by now. But when it comes to recycling, plastic bags are on the list of BIG offenders in Yuba and Sutter Counties, along with garbage. Why is this so?

When residents place cans, glass, plastics and newspapers in plastic bags they deposit in recycling containers, the recyclables travel to the MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) trapped in those bags. As the bagged recyclables enter the processing line there is no time to remove them from the bags and it’s unsafe for our employees to open them. The recyclables thus cannot be sorted and end up moving down the line…right into the garbage. A sad story on all counts: the time you spent recycling is lost, material revenue is lost, and disposal costs run higher.

Plastic bags are considered “contamination,” that is, foreign material that has mixed in with recyclables, reducing the quality of recyclable materials and raising processing costs.

Of course, you can recycle your plastic grocery bags PROPERLY by returning them to the store they came from. Question: Does this mean that plastic bags are actually desirable recyclables that will somehow make their way back to the store via your local residential recycling cart?  They Don’t.  And now you know the rest of the story.