November 15 is America Recycles Day! What better way to celebrate than to take a tour of your local recycling center? The LFUCG (Lexington) Recycling Center just happens to be celebrating their 20th anniversary on Saturday, November 17, and they are having an open house that day and offering tours of the facility.
I recently took a tour of the Lexington Recycling Center and I have to say it was really fascinating. I considered myself to be pretty educated about recycling, but I learned a lot during my tour. I had the chance to get some questions answered, and also learned about how the materials are separated and processed.
I highly recommend visiting the center and taking a tour. The quarterly mailer that gets sent out by the city often lists specific dates the Recycling Center is scheduling tours, but in reality they will schedule a tour upon request at any time. But if you can’t make it over there on the 17th, here are a few really interesting things I learned from my tour.
- While the city provides curbside pickup to single family homes, recycling at multi-family dwellings is not mandatory. For those people who do not have recycling services at their building, there are several drop-off centers around the city. Visit Lexingtonky.gov/recycle for a list and map of locations.
- When residents send their recyclables to the recycling center, they are actually helping the city generate revenue. The recycling center is a for-profit facility. When recyclable materials are sold to manufacturers, the overall sales of the materials should pay for the cost of running the recycling center, plus generate a profit. The city then uses that profit for other financial obligations. (Maybe, just maybe, if we recycle enough, the city will give the firefighters back their full health benefits!)
- Recycling also helps the city save money by reducing the costs associated with maintaining landfills. It costs $24-$28 per ton of waste to maintain an open landfill, and a closed landfill must be monitored and maintained for 50 years after its closing.
What can and can’t be recycled?
- It’s not so much about what can or can’t actually be recycled (made into a new product), but which materials does Lexington have buyers for. The materials Lexington can sell for some kind of profit are the ones that get recycled. If a profit can’t be generated, the material doesn’t get sold and it gets sent to the landfill.
- Paper: Most kinds of paper and cardboard can be recycled. Envelopes with plastic windows get comingled into large mixed paper bales. The pages of books can be processed, but not the covers, so rip those off and throw away. Magazines and glossy circulars can be processed with general paper.
- Plastic: Only number 1 and 2 plastic are sold from Lexington recycling center at Please remove caps from plastic bottles since they cannot be recycled.this time. Any other number is filtered out and sent to the landfill. It doesn’t matter if the plastic containers are cut up because a machine detects the weight of the plastic and sorts it out. Please remove the caps from any kind of plastic bottle, as these are made from a different kind of plastic and cannot be processed. I was told they occasionally get complaints from the buyers about caps contaminating a shipment. Other plastic items also cannot be processed, such as garden hoses and plastic chairs. Prescription medication bottles unfortunately don’t get processed. It has more to do with their size – being so small, they tend to get sifted out with the bottle caps.
- Glass: This is glass from bottles and jars, any color. It doesn’t matter if glass containers are broken before being put into the blue bin, and they don’t need to be wrapped up, because, as I was told, if they aren’t broken before they arrive, they’ll get broken up during the sorting process anyway. Glass cannot be processed if it is from windows, picture frames, light bulbs, bakeware, or dishes.
- Aluminum: Only aluminum drinking cans can be processed at this time. Lexington does not have a buyer for any other kind of aluminum, including aluminum foil or foil disposable baking sheets. Throw these in the trash (unfortunately).
- Other Metal: Steel food cans, including the separated lids. (I’d heard somewhere that if the lid was completely cut off, it could not be processed, but I was told this is not true – throw it in the blue bin!) Also, stainless steel cookware and bakeware, including cast iron pan can be recycled, however the center requests they be dropped off in the short grey metal containers out by the drop off bins at their facility.
Where does the stuff go?
- Aluminum beverage cans are the most profitable material for Lexington to sell, and these actually go to an aluminum recycling company located right down the highway, in Berea, Ky!
- Glass: Glass containers are shipped to Georgia at a loss. Several surrounding counties have actually stopped taking glass because the price of gas has made the cost of shipping glass (a very heavy material) so high that it actually costs more to ship the glass than what the buyer will pay for it. However, Lexington still ships it out, because the overall loss is about $10 per ton vs. the $24-$28 per ton to landfill that same glass, a savings of $14-$18 per ton.
- Since prescription medication bottles (the yellow ones with the white twist caps)Medication bottles get separated out because they are so small cannot currently be processed, they can instead be washed out, have the labels removed, and donated to the Hope Center, where they will be reused at their medical clinic.
- Any other plastic besides number 1 and 2 can be taken to Whole Foods at Lexington Green, which now has drop off for all types of plastic containers.
- Food residue in food containers does not affect the recycleability (not actually a word but I’m using it anyway) of a container, so a container does not have to be squeaky clean to be recycled, but it sure does help to cut down on the smell if you would give it a quick rinse before tossing it into the Rosie!
- If you have to choose between a plastic container and an aluminum or glass container, always choose aluminum or glass. Aluminum and glass have an almost infinite reusable life and produce very little toxic waste during the recycling process, as opposed to plastic, which has more toxic byproducts and may only be able to be reprocessed once, and only into things like playground equipment.
After reading all that, I hope you aren’t feeling overwhelmed. It may seem like recycling is complicated and tedious, but I promise, if you start with one thing and just keep adding something after you get comfortable, you will be a recycling expert before you know it. When I moved to Lexington 6 years ago, my grandmother didn’t recycle and I taught her how. If an 80 year-old can learn how to recycle, so can you!
View this video of a compactor truck dumping its load of recyclable materials.