Single Stream Paper, plastics, bottles, and newsprint; where does it all go?

South County Times: System Print Window
Source:South County Times

Paper, plastics, bottles and newsprint; where does it all go?

by Fran Mannino

April 18, 2023

The United States celebrated its first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Now, nearly 40 years later, there are innumerable ways for consumers to get involved and help protect the environment.

One of the most practical innovations this area has seen recently is the advent of “single stream” curbside recycling. Gone is the need to separate paper from plastic. Now, it takes just minutes to toss everything into a container, drag it to the street and forget about it.

But just where do all those newspapers, plastic bottles and aluminum cans go once they leave the curb?

One-Stop Recycling

Almost all recyclables in this area end up at QRS Recycling, located at I-55 and Bayless Avenue. Some, like recyclables picked up in the city of Glendale by Allied Waste, head to Resource Management in Earth City.

Family-owned QRS Recycling was founded in 1974 in Louisville, Ky., by Tim Janson, a native of Arnold. His sons, Greg and Matt, have followed in his footsteps: Greg Janson of Des Peres runs QRS Recycling in South County, and Matt Janson handles the company’s Louisville operation. QRS has a third facility in Hazelwood, and operations in Nashville, Tenn.

Waste haulers and large commercial accounts make up the bulk of QRS’ business. The facility started processing single stream recycling in June 2007.

Containers and “Anything That Tears”

“The burden of separating used to be on the resident or waste hauler,” said Greg Janson. “It was very slow for the waste hauler to pick it up and separate it. Then curbside recycling went from dual stream sorting to single stream. Now the onus of separating has gone from the resident and waste hauler to us.”

The process is simple: Every truck carrying recyclables is weighed with its load when it enters the facility, and then weighed again when its load has been emptied. This allows QRS workers to determine the actual weight of the recyclables alone, which determines billing.

Recycling goes straight from the waste hauler’s truck to what’s called the “tipping floor.” Drivers dump their loads either at the end of the work day or when the truck gets full, whichever comes first.

From there, it’s a little like organized chaos. Recyclables are loaded onto a feed belt, which leads to a pre-sort line, the first step in the separation process.

Lightning fast workers pull out certain items from a constantly moving conveyor belt: anything that is brown and can be torn, like cardboard and cereal boxes, heads down one chute; whole glass containers get sent down another; and contaminants like wire hangers and plastic grocery bags that could jam up the system get pulled out and separated.

“We get everything in here from big plastic swimming pools to plastic tricycles,” said Janson. “That’s not what we’re looking for. The equipment is designed to handle a certain profile. We stick to containers, and anything that tears.”

Bob Rosener, plant manager at QRS since 1989, oversees the entire facility and its 13 full-time employees. He takes the occasional plastic monstrosity in stride.

“Every once in a while we’ll get something that really shouldn’t be in there,” said Rosener. “People have a tendency to think because it’s plastic, it’s recyclable. We end up recycling it – we don’t throw it away – but that’s not what we’re looking for in the single stream recycling.”

The recycling that makes it through the pre-sort team passes over a series of screens and rubber discs that helps it on its way.

A slanted screen separates paper from containers: newspapers grab hold and are elevated up and over the top of the screen, while containers that easily roll downhill fall to the bottom and out to the next conveyor.

By the end of the line, the cardboard is separate from the plastic, which is separate from the newspaper, glass and so on.

“Everything that comes in eventually ends up in the baler,” said Janson. “It’s baled into 2,000-pound cubes and loaded onto rail cars, trailers, or overseas containers.”

The product is compressed so that as much as possible fits on those trailers to maximize shipping capacity. Every container that leaves the facility weighs at least 40,000 to 45,000 pounds, said Janson.

Janson and Rosener stress that the key words for residential recyclers wondering what to put in that recycling bin are “containers and anything that tears.”

This includes beverage bottles, milk jugs and detergent containers; aluminum cans, trays and foil; glass bottles and jars; newspaper, cardboard, paper bags, office paper, paper back books, catalogs and more.

New Life

“We’re in the commodities business,” said Janson. “We buy recycling, separate it, package it into shippable and saleable form and sell it on the open market, where it’s used to make new products.”

The recyclables leaving QRS are used in a variety of ways by the companies that purchase them:

  • Newspapers, magazines, office paper and junk mail are sold to companies that turn the fiber into new newspaper. Sixty percent stays in the U.S., and 40 percent is sold to an export company that ships it overseas to China.

  • Mixed paper and corrugated cardboard are sold to Weyerhaeuser paper mills. That fiber is processed into paper that lines the inside and outside of cardboard boxes.

  • Aluminum cans, foil and trays are sold to Anheuser-Busch Recycling to be used to make new cans.

  • Plastic containers and bottles are shipped to a variety of companies for new life as bottles, paint buckets, strapping material and more.

  • Steel cans head to Louisville to be made into other steel products.

  • Glass stays in St. Louis, at Strategic Material, and is used to make new bottles.

View the original articleHere

Big recycling bins a big hit, spur recycling surge
A day in the life of recyclables
St. Louis Health Department recognizes the Rockwood School District & QRS Recycling
Recycling facility inspires unexpected field trip idea
Update: Residential Recycling Materials list
Don't Throw it Away. Recycling and Convenience All in One Bin.
Celebrate Nashville Earth Day Festival 2007