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Recycling Bin - End of Line, a New Beginning

Part one of a three part series

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MARYLAND - Reduce, reuse, recycle. Recycling has become a part of American life, and a major function of the waste-processing industry. In fact, many areas in the United States require it by law. This is the first of our three reports.

The recycle bin. It is often the last stop for empty containers. But for papers, plastics, cardboards and cans, it can mark the beginning of a journey thousands of kilometers long.

“As long as people keep throwing their trash, we’ve got a job," said Yehenew Gedshew.

Yehenew Gedshew manages a Recycling Center outside of Washington DC.

“We do about 35 tons of material an hour," he said.

So how exactly does a facility process more than 30 metric tons of waste every hour?

“First what happens is the dump trucks bring materials to our site; they dump it on the tipping floor," explained Gedshew. "It goes to the first screen where the cardboard and the rest of the material is sorted out."

The rest of the material goes to another belt, which takes the glass and plastic to the last screen. The glass gets crushed, the plastic gets sorted and flattened. Then, it comes to still another sorter.

"This is a very sophisticated machine," said Gedshew. "A belt brings it down to the bunker, and from the bunker we put it to the baler, it gets baled and then it gets shipped out. Basically, that’s what happens.”

Area recycling programs often require residents to separate plastics, papers and glass. Gedshew says this facility sorts all recyclables on-site.

“Since they don’t have to sort out their recycles [sic] any more, it has made their lives very easy," he said. "They throw everything in a ball and we sort everything out here.”

Gedshew says the facility ships most of its plastics to a processing plant in North Carolina, more than 500 kilometers to the south, where bales of bottles become piles of plastic - ready to melt and mold into something new.

We’ll pack our bags and see you there, soon.
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    Arash Arabasadi

    Arash Arabasadi is an award-winning multimedia journalist with a decade of experience shooting, producing, writing and editing. He has reported from conflicts in Iraq, Egypt, the Persian Gulf and Ukraine, as well as domestically in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore, Maryland. Arash has also been a guest lecturer at Howard University, Hampton University, Georgetown University, and his alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife Ashley and their two dogs.