Recycle & Transfer Station Tour

By Jaime Wilson, Green Team Member

The Sacramento Zoo Green Team had the opportunity to tour the 140,000 square foot Sacramento Recycling & Transfer Station last week to learn more about how recycling works and gain some insight into what we can do better. The general recycling (paper, cardboard, plastics, glass and metal) that is generated here at the Zoo goes to this facility as well as what is considered hazardous waste (batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, paint).

There are three parts to the station.
  • Waste Transfer: The trash truck comes here and drops off the garbage. Then it is loaded into transfer trucks that move 25 tons of trash in each load to the landfill. They move about 1,000 tons of garbage every day!
  • Material Recovery Facility (MRF): This is the recycling part. Everything from your recycle bin is dropped off here, moved along a conveyor belt, sorted and then packaged into bails to be sold. They process 450 tons of recycling each day!
  • Hazardous Waste: The scary stuff that can't go into the landfill ends up here. They take paint, motor oil, batteries, fluorescent bulbs, aerosols, pesticides, solvents, medical sharps and much more. They sort, package send the items off to be recycled or disposed of properly.

As a resident of Sacramento County, you can drop off large items and appliances (for a fee), and household hazardous waste (free, but limited amounts). Check out their website for hours, fees and details.

Here is a photo tour of how they process all the stuff we put into those recycle bins!

1) The mixed recycling is dumped on the far side, and the cardboard is dumped on the near side.

2) the items are moved by a conveyor belt up to the workers who sort the items. They look for cardboard, trash and contaminated items, and paper. They pull them out and drop them into shoots that lead to the big holding bays below them.

3) Most of the glass is sorted mechanically, crushed and sent down a conveyor to the white collection bin. As one bin fills, they move another one under the constant stream of crushed glass.

4) This set of shoots and ladders mechanically separates out the newspaper, the mixed paper and everything else like plastic bottles, metal cans, etc. Each ends up on it's own conveyor belt.

5) At the far left, there are another set of workers that sort items on each line making sure only the stuff they want is on the belt. The last step is a magnet that takes out the tin cans and metal, and a electrical current that pops out the aluminum cans.

6) As each of the storage bays fill up with the workers items they are put into large bailing machines that will compress and wrap the recycling. Then they are stacked and prepped to be sold to companies that will use the materials to make new stuff!

It is a pretty impressive system and we learned some great things for our everyday green practices.
  • Package your shredded paper into clear plastic so that it is properly contained and they can see what it is.
  • If you are recycling plastic shopping bags, cram as many as you can into one bag and tie up the bag. That way they can easily grab it off the line and get it into the right place.
  • Rinsing your tin cans isn't necessary, but it does help reduce the contamination on other stuff in your recycling bin.
  • Take a trip out to Household Hazardous and go "shopping" in their free area. They often have large quantities of household paint, cleaners, and other items that are mostly full or have never been opened!
So, make sure you keep on recycling all those bottles, cans and newspapers! And don't forget to take your scary stuff like used motor oil, latex paint, fluorescent bulbs and batteries to Household Hazardous. It doesn't cost you a dime and it keeps very harmful stuff out of the landfill.
If you don't know what you can recycle, visit and look under "How do I recycle" for tips and information on just about everything!
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