On March 5th, three RAPtivists toured the Miramar Recycling Center. Rise Above Plastics co-chairs Cynthia Krueger and Jason Rubin, along with research scientist Emelia DeForce, learned what happens to the stuff San Diegans put in their blue bins.
Although there is some machine sorting at the facility, many of the items are separated by hand. First, workers standing alongside an elevated conveyor belt pre-sort out trash, cardboard and metals. The stream of material then flows into a sorting machine that diverts newspaper, mixed paper, plastic and glass to their own lines. As the items move past on the belt, workers separate out different types (e.g. colored and clear plastics) and remove additional trash and other recyclables such as EPS foam which are handled separately. Whatever is not sorted out returns to the start for continuous processing. Sorted items such as plastic, paper and trash are bundled by type into large bales.
About 12-15% of the material brought in is sent to the landfill, roughly 70-80% is paper (cardboard, mixed, and newspaper), and around 20-30% is plastic. The center can be thought of as more of a sorting facility than a recycling center because the recovered materials are sold to the highest bidder, often shipping to Asia.