What is actually recycled in San Antonio? KSAT Explains

It’s a question that may begin a family debate; what may be recycled and what can’t?

San Antonio is the seventh largest metropolis in the U.S., which means we produce a whole lot of trash. However, two native recycling amenities are making a big dent in the quantity of recyclable materials that finally ends up in landfills.

One of the amenities processes over 400 tons of fabric every day, Monday by Friday. That provides as much as two-thousand tons each week, the identical weight as roughly TEN common adult whales!

Most San Antonio houses have entry to color-coded bins to make the method simpler, however deciding what goes in every bin can even result in a debate.

In this episode of KSAT Explains, we present you the way two native corporations mix people and robots to streamline the recycling course of and clarify what recycling means.

Recycling in a Nutshell

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first began recording recycling information in the 1960′s. During that point, over 5 million tons of supplies have been being recycled in the United States. Fast ahead to the most recent information from 2018, that quantity is over 69 million tons throughout the U.S.

Recyclable gadgets embody glass, paper and cardboard, metal, aluminum, some plastics, rubber and leather-based, wooden, yard trimmings, meals, and numerous different gadgets.

The apparent objective of recycling is to forestall supplies that may be reused or composted from losing away in a landfill. Still, most would argue a very powerful objective of recycling is to cut back greenhouse gasses on Earth.

“In 2018, the recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery and landfilling of MSW saved over 193 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. This is comparable to the emissions that could be reduced from taking almost 42 million cars off the road in a year.” – EPA

Most home goods may be recycled in some type or style. For instance, perhaps you’ve an outdated lamp or piece of furnishings? Don’t simply toss it; Take it to a thrift retailer. Someone would possibly rehab it or use the supplies from it.

Have some outdated garments? Donate them to homeless or animal shelters as an alternative of placing them in the trash. Both concepts are types of recycling and protecting gadgets out of landfills.

But the commonest technique of recycling includes your on a regular basis trash, and ensuring these gadgets find yourself in the appropriate place is essential in the recycling course of.

Republic Services Recycling Facility

In San Antonio, Republic Services is the sanitation service utilized by most residents.

The company supplies every deal with with a few completely different bins, one with a black lid, one with a light-weight blue lid, and one with a inexperienced lid.

Visual description of what every coloured lid represents for Republic Services prospects. (Courtesy: Republic Services) (ksat12)

The bin with a black lid is for non-recyclable rubbish. Anything put in this bin will go on to the landfill.

The bin with a light-weight blue lid is for recyclable supplies, such because the gadgets we mentioned above. Anything put in this bin will find yourself on the Republic Services recycling facility on San Antonio’s east facet.

The bin with the inexperienced lid is for compostable supplies, resembling meals scraps and garden clippings. (NO plastics in this bin, together with rubbish luggage with leaves or branches)

They settle for supplies from Republic Services prospects, the City of San Antonio, the City of New Braunfels, and different smaller operators inside the metropolis.

Piles of uncooked supplies able to be sorted by on the Republic Services recycling facility. (ksat12)

“We have to process 215 or more tons a day, per shift, to stay in front of that. So you’re looking at 430 tons,” stated Operations Manager Tim Tiemann. The workforce works in two shifts to satisfy their every day objective.

They additionally need to preserve “uptime” in thoughts. Uptime means how lengthy the machines are up and working. The facility’s objective is the uptime of 85% or higher.

For instance, if the machine runs easily all day lengthy, that’s thought-about 100% uptime. This is the best-case situation as a result of the crew might probably exceed their processing objective for the day.

On the flip facet, if a shirt or wire will get caught in one of many machines, operations need to be placed on maintain to take away the particles. That is thought-about “downtime.” For Tim and his crew, a damaged machine equals money lost.

At the top of every shift, staff have to chop these undesirable gadgets out of the equipment, which takes time.

The very best supplies for the recycling facility are paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans. Tim calls this the “core four.”

“The termination of other things that were thrown in there based on what a customer thinks is recyclable adds to that,” stated Tiemann.

Some of the random gadgets we seen whereas visiting the power have been boots, stuffed animals, laundry baskets, and even toolboxes.

As a great deal of supplies pace down the conveyor belts, Tim’s crew picks out gadgets that will injury the gear or can’t be processed by the power. Some of these unwelcomed gadgets are flamable cans, electrical cords, clothes, medical waste, or giant items of plastic like dry cleansing luggage.

Those supplies might put that objective in jeopardy by clogging up the gear because the workforce works to satisfy its “uptime” objective.

Photo of Republic Services workers sorting by supplies. (ksat12)

Roughly 100 vans arrive at this facility on any given day. They are instantly weighed to see how a lot materials they’re carrying. Tim stated every truck carries roughly three to 4 tons of fabric.

After being weighed, the vans dump their hundreds into large holding piles inside the power. Tractor operators mix these supplies to interrupt them up. The supplies have been compressed in the again of the vans up till being dumped. This is referred to as “fluffing.”

From there, the fabric is dumped into what is referred to as a “drum feed.” This machine grinds merchandise into smaller bits.

Next, the ground-up materials is transferred to the pre-sort line. This is the place expert staff kind by the supplies to select any probably damaging gadgets or issues that may’t be recycled. This is additionally the place glass is sorted out.

Those supplies are carried by miles of conveyor belts and sorting methods till they find yourself in the appropriate part of the power.

Republic Services makes use of AI technology to discard undesirable gadgets. The AI methods use cameras and robotic arms with suction cups on the top to seize supplies that aren’t speculated to be on that conveyor belt.

Watch: Republic Services robotics system in motion

Tiemann stated it’s all about seize rate, which means how a lot paper or plastic they efficiently accumulate.

“If it’s smaller than a business card, we’re probably not going to capture it,” stated Tiemann.

Once they make it by the sorting course of, the supplies are bailed and inspected for high quality.

“They’ll reject the material or they’ll downgrade it. Something that happens if they downgrade it…they can send it back to us. So we pay for the freight for that truck to come back here. Plus, we have to figure out what’s wrong with the material, reprocess it yet again and try to sell it again. So that’s a problem,” stated Tiemann.

Workers make the bale “pretty” by selecting out seen gadgets that will have slipped by the method. If the bale has an excessive amount of contamination, resembling plastic luggage or diapers, the mill sends them again and Republic Services.

Finally, the bale of cardboard, plastics, and cans is bought by mills that can recycle the supplies.

Bales of supplies on the Republic Services recycling facility being high quality checked for the mills (ksat12)
Bales of cans on the Republic Services recycling facility able to be shipped to mills. (ksat12)

Atlas Organics

Another recycling approach partly includes the meals you and I eat.

Organics embody yard trimmings, tree trimmings, and meals waste, like desk scraps. Items that have been as soon as residing and at the moment are lifeless…or may be consumed…are thought-about organics.

An EPA report from 2016 exhibits over two million tons of organics have been composted in the U.S., and by 2018, that quantity was as much as 25 million tons.

Atlas Organics plant on the southwest facet of San Antonio. (ksat12)

Atlas Organics, a company out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, has a partnership with the City of San Antonio. Their facility on the southwest facet of city composts meals scraps and garden clippings into high-quality soil and mulch.

They use a large sorting system to cut back the quantity of contamination in the recyclable supplies. Contamination contains something non-biodegradable, like plastics, pizza containers, and garden gear.

“I’ve seen weed eaters, pieces of lawnmowers, rims, hubcaps, a bunch of different of everything,” stated Eduardo Gutierrez, a spotter with Atlas Organics.

The San Antonio location is the primary in the world to make use of AI technology to assist human staff preserve contamination out of compostable supplies.

The system, developed by AMP Robotics, makes use of cameras to scan for gadgets deemed as contaminated. If the computer senses a bit of trash, it deploys a robotic arm to swiftly suction the merchandise and drop it right into a bin beneath. The gadgets pulled out by the robotic will find yourself in the landfill.

The company says over 370,000 residents in town of San Antonio are a part of the solid waste program. Furthermore, Atlas Organics stated 90% or roughly 300,000 of these residents have a inexperienced cart for organics/compost. The gadgets thrown in the inexperienced bin find yourself at Atlas Organics.

Watch: Todd Knief with Atlas Organics explains what goes in the organics bin.

Atlas Organics in San Antonio explains what they need to see in the organics bin an a standard mistake folks make.

Todd Knief is a business gross sales consultant with Atlas Organics. He stated, “we’re trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, right? Methane gas. And this year alone, we have reduced the amount of tons going to the landfill, about 40,000 tons that have been diverted away from landfills. Last year alone, we diverted 67,000 tons.”

The course of begins with a truck coming into the power to be weighed. Materials like tree branches and wooden scraps are dumped into large piles. Atlas Organics workers switch these supplies into an enormous shredder with tractors that breaks the big supplies into smaller items.

Next, the fabric goes by a trommel display screen. Think of an enormous spinning drum with one-inch holes inside. This course of takes the wonderful particles out of the fabric, lowering mud.

It additionally shrinks the supplies right into a smaller measurement that Atlas workers and robots can choose by on what is referred to as, you guessed it, the choose line.

Robotic arm on standby subsequent to human co-worker at Atlas Organics. (ksat12)

Then, that materials is spat out into an enormous pile on the finish of the sorting line. It is there that the magic actually begins to occur.

During a go to to Atlas Organics, KSAT witnessed a big truckload of produce arrive on-site. It was primarily simply clippings of greens, however there have been additionally complete shares of broccoli…complete carrots…and even complete onions.

While it is an uncomfortable quantity of meals waste, the constructive is that all of it goes to Atlas Organics to be put to good use fairly than the landfill.

“A lot of that food waste material that doesn’t make it to H-E-B or a local grocery store chains comes here. 50 to 60 tons of material actually get dropped off right here at the end of our line. And we process that, mix it, turn it with the organics that goes through the sort line, so we get our carbon source, and now we have our nitrogen source,” stated Knief.

Large pile of recent produce being dumped at Atlas Organics facility. (ksat12)

The freshly blended supplies are then transferred to a secondary location to undergo a second screening course of. This is the place any contamination that snuck by the preliminary kind line…might be sifted out.

Finally, the freshly floor materials sits in large piles for as much as two months to let microorganisms do their job. This curing course of is essential to create high-quality compost.

“So let’s say you want to put some top dressing on your grass in the spring to wake up. Nitrogen provides that energy for your grass to wake up out of hibernation and creates that greening effect. Carbon working with nitrogen is organic material put back into the soil structure for healthy planning,” stated Knief.

What Goes in the Recycle Bin?

KSAT’s Myra Arthur did an experiment for this episode, saving gadgets she believed may very well be recycled. We introduced these gadgets to Republic Services to see how she did.

Some takeaways from this present and inform:

  • Not all plastics and cardboards are equal

  • Clean your gadgets earlier than throwing them in the recycling bin

  • Small plastic wrappers are higher off in the rubbish

  • Combustible cans are harmful to the power

  • Dirty diapers are a giant “no-no”

Questioning if one thing may be recycled? Use this tool to search for your merchandise and discover out the place it goes.


Plastic is categorized into seven completely different classes with what is generally known as a Resin Identification Code or RIC. The codes have been first developed by the Society of Plastics Industry Inc. (now the Plastics Industry Association) in 1988. However, these codes weren’t supposed to be a communication instrument for customers, they have been created to maintain consistency between resin makers.

The Plastics Industry Association started working with ASTM International in 2008 to modernize the RIC system.

The RIC system, ASTM D7611, is now recognized as a strong triangle stamped into plastic merchandise with a quantity in the center. The quantity identifies what chemical substances the product is made with.

Tim Tiemann with Republic Services mentions “low-grade” plastics in the video above. Low-grade plastics are gadgets like CDs (#7), dry cleansing luggage (#4,) and styrofoam merchandise (#6.)

The Republic Services recycling facility solely needs gadgets with the numbers 1, 2, and 5. They say inflexible plastics, like bottles, jugs, and tubs, are very best.

The City of San Antonio stated to ball up your plastic luggage and put all of them inside one as an alternative of throwing them out individually.

Republic Services information to plastics (ksat12)

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