The Recycling Process After Collection
What Happens to Materials When You Recycle

Table Of Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Newspaper
  3. Cardboard
  4. Glass
  5. Tin cans
  6. Aluminum
  7. Motor Oil

At the time The Oregon Recycling Opportunity Act was passed, it set up a statewide system for managing solid waste that was called the most comprehensive in the nation. Residents of most cities over 4,000 population may place glass, tin, cardboard, newspaper, aluminum and motor oil at curbside for pickup. They and residents of the more rural areas of the state also may take recyclable materials to public landfills, transfer stations, and conveniently located drop-off centers.

Whether Oregonians place recyclables at curbside or drop them off at a local collection depot, just where does the material go next? The specific route depends on the item in question, but there are some common threads. They have to do with words like collector and hauler, resale, transportation and energy. They have to do with conserving, and with saving natural resources and fossil fuels and materials. They have to do with insuring that we preserve our state as we know it for generations to come.

But the process of collecting and re-manufacturing recyclable materials, outlined here, is only part of recycling. Buying and using a recycled product completes the circle. Look for the recycled label on the products you buy, and ask your store manager to stock recycled products and products made of recycled materials.

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What's black and white and read over and over? Recycled newspaper.

You begin the recycling process when you set it apart from your household garbage and place it at curbside or in a bin at a drop-off depot. Or when you participate in a paper drive. Whichever method you select, the paper is picked up by recycling collector. At curbside, this might be your garbage hauler or a recycling service working with your garbage hauler. The collector combines your newspaper with paper from other households and sells them to a paper dealer who, because of the volume of material purchased, often operates out of a storage warehouse. The dealer then sells quantities of paper to a user. This is where the actual recycling--manufacturing one product into a new product--takes place.

Old newspaper is an essential material in the paper remanufacturing process. Because paper mills must be concerned about both quality (cleanliness, type of paper) and quantity of the supply, they usually issue purchasing contracts to dealers rather than buying small amounts of paper from the public. Some contracts might be for a month, while others are ongoing.

At the paper mill, de-inking facilities separate ink from the newspaper fibers through a chemical washing process. A slusher turns the old paper into pulp, and detergent dissolves and carries the ink away. Next, screens remove contaminants like bits of tape or dirt. The remaining pulp is bleached and mixed with additional pulp from wood chips to strengthen it. The watery mixture is poured onto a wire, a continuously moving belt screen which allows excess moisture to drain through. By the time the mixtures gets to the end of the belt, it's solid enough to be lifted off and fed through steam-heated rollers which further dry and flatten it into a continuous sheet of paper. This paper machine produces finished newsprint at the rate of 3,000 feet per minute.

Finally the newsprint is trimmed, rolled, and sent to printing plants to be imprinted with tomorrow's news. The Smurfit mills in Oregon City and Newberg are the major users of old newspaper in Oregon. Together they process close to 900 tons every day. This is equivalent to a stack of newspaper nine and one-half miles high, and nearly 2.5 times the amount of newsprint printed and sold in this state each day. Even though Oregonians recycle nearly twice as much newspaper (close to 70 percent) as do residents of any other state, the mills must depend on old newspaper shipped to them from other states as well as that from Oregon to maintain their inventory.

Not all old newspaper in Oregon is recycled back into newspaper. Western Pulp, located in Albany, uses old newsprint for manufacturing molded flower pots and other specialty items. Energy Guard in Clackamas produces blown-in cellulose insulation from old newsprint. Paper brokers also may sell old newspaper to overseas markets. In that case, the paper sometimes is reused (rather than remanufactured) as wrapping paper.

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What is cardboard? If you answered a brown box, you're only partly correct. There are two types of cardboard. The first is called boxboard. This a solid sheet used for products like shoe boxes and tablet backings. The gray color indicates that the boxboard has been made of recycled materials. The color comes from combining different types of paper, some of which may have had the ink left on them. The second type is called corrugated cardboard, or just corrugated. It is commonly used to make what most people call "cardboard boxes." Corrugated is a paper sandwich of linerboard (the two outer layers) and the medium (the ribbed inner layer).

While some corrugated cardboard is recycled at curbside, the bulk of it comes from commercial rather than residential sources. If you've every checked the service area of your local supermarket or furniture store, you'll see the volume of corrugated packing material used by commercial outlets. That's because corrugated containers are sturdy, strong, and can be custom-made to a particular order.

Like homeowners, stores usually have their garbage hauler or recycling service collect their cardboard. The hauler next sells it to a dealer, who collects and guarantees quantities of a material to end users. In most cases, the end user is a paper mill.

At the mill, the corrugated is pulped and blended with additional pulp from wood chips. Broken, thus shorter and weaker, old fibers are blended with the new pulp to make the medium. Recycled paper fibers and new pulp are blended to make linerboard. Then the medium and the linerboard are shipped to a boxboard plant, where the manufacturing process is finished. The medium is corrugated by specially-geared machines, the linerboards are glued on, and the resulting flat pieces, called mats, are trimmed to size and creased along a pattern of folds. The mats are shipped flat to customers who set them up into boxes. Then the boxes are used to package products for shipping.

Oregon has four major cardboard recycling plants: Weyerhauser in North Bend makes medium, but their Springfield plant makes linerboard; Willamette Industries in Albany makes only linerboard. Georgia-Pacific in Toledo makes both medium and linerboard. The latter two plants also make recycled paper for brown, or Kraft, paper bags.

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The most common and easily recycled type of glass available in Oregon is container glass: bottles and jars. Other glass products, such as Pyrex bowls and window glass, each are made from different chemical formulas. While technically recyclable, the different types can't be mixed in recycling. And because the on-route collector has a limited amount of space on the collection vehicle, it isn't feasible to pick up every different type of glass at the curb.

Glass bottles and jars which are empty and rinsed clean should be placed at curbside--carefully. Most recycling collectors ask residents not to break the containers for safety purposes, although an on-route collector may break them to make more room on the collection vehicle. Also, some recycling drop-off centers ask you to leave the glass intact, while others allow it to be broken. And while most Oregon collectors ask that you sort the glass into green, brown and clear colors, some collectors allow mixing. After the recycling collector accumulates a quantity of a particular color, he may sell it either to a dealer, who will buy small amounts from several collectors, or directly to a glass plant.

At the plant, a mechanical processing system breaks the glass into small pieces called cullet. Magnets, screens and vacuum systems separate out metals, labels, bits of plastic, metal rings and caps. The cullet then is blended in measured amounts with silica sand, soda ash, and limestone, and placed in a furnace which melts it into molten glass. Oregon's recyclable glass containers go to Owens-Brockway, a unit of Owens-Illinois, Inc. in Portland. A small amount of container glass also goes to Bullseye Glass, Portland, for manufacturing stained glass.

Thanks to the Oregon Bottle Bill, some of our state's glass containers are reused again and again before they are remanufactured at Owens-Brockway. Reusing an item is more economical and saves more energy than does remanufacturing it. The Oregon Bottle Bill was enacted in 1971, making Oregon first in the nation with a statewide beverage container deposit system. The consumer pays a deposit when the container is purchased. When it is empty, the consumer may return it to any store which carries that product, exchanging the container for a refund. After the consumer returns bottles to the store, they are sorted into different brands.

A distributor, or wholesaler, collects the empties for the brands he sells. When the Bottle Bill was passed, distributors washed, sterilized and refilled the bottles collected. Today, with shape and style differences among brands, the majority of the bottles collected under the Bottle Bill go directly to Owens-Brockway for recycling.

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Tin cans
Tin is an excellent example of quality vs. quantity. Even though it's used in minute amounts, tin is essential in producing a variety of everyday items, including "tin" cans. While the cans originally were called "tinned" cans, the term was shortened to "tin" over the years. The term "tinned" is more accurate, because the cans aren't made of tin. At least, not much. One ton of tin cans contains about 1,995 pounds of steel and only five pounds of tin. Yet that thin coating of tin on a steel can is essential: it helps solder the sideseam, keeps the can from rusting, and protects its contents.

To prepare tin cans for collection, remove tops and bottoms and flatten the cans. (Flatten seamless cans like cat food, tuna fish cans, or some soup cans, as best as you are able). When cans are flattened, the curbside collector is able to load more into the truck, thus saving the time it would take to drive the truck to the storage facility, unload it and resume the collection. And since costs of shipping the cans to detinning plants also are determined by truckload, loads of compacted, flattened cans are more economical to ship.

After the cans are collected on-route, the volume of cans collected and type of transportation arrangements available will determine whether the load will go through a dealer or directly to a detinning plant. At the plant, another reason for cutting lids off becomes evident. The chemical detinning solution flows into and drains out of the cans more easily, which results in better recovery of the tin during the reclaiming process. That process is made up of a series of chemical and electrical steps which separate, purify, and recover the steel and tin. In the batch process of detinning, the cans first are loaded into large (10' x 14') perforated steel drums and dipped into a caustic chemical solution which dissolves the tin from the steel. The now-detinned steel cans are drained, rinsed, and baled into 14"x14"x30" 400-lb. squares. Then they are sold to steel mills to be made into new products.

Meanwhile, the liquid with the tin, a salt solution called sodium stannate, is filtered to remove scraps of paper and garbage. Then it's chemically treated to eliminate other metals. Next, the solution is transferred to an electrolysis bath which works like a battery in reverse. When electricity is applied, tin forms on one of the plates in the solution. After the plate is covered, the tin is melted off and cast into ingots. The ingots are at least 99.98 percent pure tin and are used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Pure tin also is alloyed with other metals to make solder, babbitt, pewter, and bronze products. And it coats steel for "tin" cans. Cans collected in Oregon are shipped to the nearest detinning plant, MRI Corporation in Seattle.

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Aluminum takes many forms. It's used for consumer products ranging from beverage cans to TV dinner trays to door frames. It's rolled and made into foil (often inaccurately called "tinfoil"). It's all aluminum, and it's all recyclable.

In Oregon, aluminum beer and soft drink cans are included in the Bottle Bill, and may be exchanged for deposit at the store. After that, the cans follow the same route to re-manufacturing as does both the household aluminum scrap picked up at curbside and the aluminum swing set or patio furniture which is taken to a recycling depot.

The scrap metal may go through several hands, including a recycler or scrap metal dealer. Its route, and whether it is sold domestically or abroad, depends on such business conditions as cost of transportation, supply, and demand.

But eventually all scrap metal reaches a producer, or smelter, where it may be shredded or ground into small chips before being melted and cast into ingots. The ingots are sent on to manufacturing plants where they are rolled into sheets of aluminum and used to manufacture end products ranging from cans to castings to car bodies. The major market for shredded aluminum are exports (comprising a variety of end-users) and domestic smelters.

Nearly every large city has several firms which collect and sell scrap metal to Schnitzer Steel Products, Acme Trading & Supply, and Calbag Metals, major scrap metal dealers located in Portland. They in turn, ship aluminum to Alcoa and Reynolds, the major domestic smelters outside the state.

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Motor Oil
Putting your used motor oil at curbside or leaving it at a recycling drop-off depot makes sense, environmentally and economically. Recycling motor oil keeps it out of storm sewers, where it can pollute our waterways. Used oil costs less than virgin oil. And it's readily available, even in times of international political crises. Over the years, re-refined oil has been used for everything from lubricating oil for vehicles, chainsaws, or machinery to heating fuel for buildings, ships, and cement and asphalt kilns.

Collectors ask that you place the motor oil at curbside or the depot in a clean, non-breakable bottle with a lid. That way the bottle can be transported safely and easily. After it's picked up, the collector usually takes the oil back to the shop and pours it into one of a number of tanks or drums for storage. When the drums are full of oil, an independent hauler pumps them out into a special collection truck and delivers the load to an oil processor.

The processor first tests the oil, using standards established by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to detect contaminates such as hazardous waste and lead. Then any water that may be mixed with the oil is eliminated, either through a settling process or by being heated and boiled off. After it is tested once again, the used oil is blended with other grades of oil. Used oil that meets EPA testing standards for flashpoint and heavy metals is called specification fuel. This type of oil is considered environmentally safe to burn in any boiler, because of the high ash-forming components of used oil, boilers designed for easy ash removal are recommended.

One role for used oil today is to help lighten bunker fuel, the heavy residue left from virgin oil refining. Bunker fuel often is used in ships' boilers, even though it becomes thick enough to be walked on when cold. Without the lighter-weight used motor oil, bunker fuel would hardly flow through the pipes when temperatures drop. Used oil also is burned in asphalt plants to heat the tar used in the asphalt. And it is used in cement and lime kilns to provide heat for driving the chemical reactions necessary to produce cement and lime.

As recently as two decades ago, most used oil was re-fined into new lubricating oil for cars and trucks. However, the high performance lubricating oils available today have extensive additive packages that make them difficult to be re-fined and reconstituted. Presently, virtually none of the oil recycled in Oregon is sold as automotive oil, and only five percent of the oil is re-refined into oil for lubricating chain saws and machinery.

Twenty independent oil collectors pick up used oil from Oregon automobile service stations, industries, and recyclers. There are five major processors: Harbor Oil and Sunwest Energy are located in Portland; Industrial Oils is in Klamath Falls; and Inman Oil is in Vancouver,

Washington. A recently funded project to encourage used oil recycling by providing information in retail stores to make the process easier for home auto-mechanics.

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For questions, comments, or further information please e-mail or contact the Department of Environmental Quality's Solid Waste Policy and Program Development Section, 811 SW Sixth Avenue, Portland, OR 97204, (503)229-5913 or toll-free in Oregon, 1-800-452-4011.

Information obtained from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality web site.

Updated:July 14, 1998

What Happens When You Recycle
Last Updated on 5/9/01 By Facilities Services
Material Type How is the recovered material processed into a useful product? Where are the markets located? What products are made from recycled materials? How much energy is saved by recycling?
Newspaper A chemical process separates ink from the newspaper fibers, which are then turned into pulp and washed. Screens remove contaminants. The pulp is bleached and mixed with pulp from wood chips to strengthen it. The pulp is poured on a screen to drain, then flattened and dried as it passes through steam-heated rollers. It is trimmed and rolled to be reused as newspaper. Oregon Reused as wrapping paper. Reprocessed into newsprint. Manufacture molded flower pots. Recycling one ton of newspaper saves three tons of wood pulp. It saves the equivalent of 3,000 kilowatt hours of electricity, or 23% of the energy required to process a ton of news from new pulp.
Cardboard Corrugated cardboard is pulped and blended with new pulp from wood chips. The pulp is screened, rolled and dried into two types of cardboard called medium (the inner layer) and linerboard (the smooth outer layers). Both are sold to a box-board plant to be formed into new corrugated cardboard. Oregon Manufactures "medium": the ribbed inner layer of corrugated cardboard. Manufactures "linerboard": the outer layer of corrugated cardboard and brown paper bags. Recycling one ton of cardboard saves 3 tons of wood pulp. It saves the equivalent of 3,000 kilowatt hours of the energy needed to process one ton of corrugated cardboard from fresh pulp.
Aluminum Aluminum scrap is ground and shredded into small chips before being melted and cast into ingots. The ingots are sent to manufacturing plants where they are molded or rolled into sheets that can be shaped into various products. Scrap metal dealers in Oregon Major out-of-state smelters Roller sheets of aluminum can be formed into many products such as car bodies. Aluminum is also cast (molded) or extruded into many useful forms. Recycled aluminum has the same quality as new. Aluminum is the biggest energy saver of all, saving 64,300 kilowatt hours per ton of reclaimed material. That's 96%!
Steel Cans Tin cans are really tin-coated steel cans. Removing lids from cans and flattening them makes reprocessing easier. The tin coating on steel cans is removed with a caustic de-tinning solution by electrolysis. The remaining steel is rinsed and baled and sold to a steel mill. The tin is a valuable ingredient for many products. Washington Tin and steel are separated. The tin is used by the chemical and pharmaceutical industries. Reclaiming a ton of tin or steel saves 1.5 tons of ore. Tin saves an estimated 2,600 kilowatt hours per ton. Steel saves an average 4,300 kilowatt hours per ton or 47% of the energy required to process steel from raw materials.
Glass A mechanical processing system breaks the glass into small pieces called cullet. Magnets, screens and vacuum systems remove metals, labels, bits of plastic, and caps. The cullet is blended with silica sand, soda ash and limestone. The mixture is melted and blow-molded into new glass containers. Oregon Remanufactured into new glass containers. Manufactured into stain glass. Recycling one ton of glass saves 1.2 tons of new raw materials. It saves the equivalent of 860 kilowatt hours of electricity or 18% of the energy needed to form new glass.
Motor Oil A collector pours oil from your clean non-breakable bottle into a storage tank until there is enough oil saved to be sold economically to a processor. The processor tests the oil to see if it meets EPA standards for allowable percentages of contaminants such as hazardous waste and lead. Water is removed from the oil, and it is blended with other grades of oil. Oregon & Washington Used as fuel for boilers equipped for easy ash removal. Used to lighten bunker fuel, the heavy residue left from virgin oil refining, for use in ship's boilers. Burned in asphalt plants and cement and lime kilns for heat. All of the oil saved by recycling is an energy savings.
Plastics Plastics need to be sorted by type because many plastic resins are used that are incompatible in the recycling process. The plastic may be shredded, baled, or chipped before it is shipped to the reprocessing plant. Resins are melted and remolded into new products. All over the United States High-density Polyethylene: flower pots, car parts, toys, drainage pipe. PET (soda bottles): fiber-fill industrial strapping, carpet backing. Polystyrene (including foam): desktop products. Mixed plastics: molded products, plastic lumber and pallets. Plastics are derived from energy resources such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas, so any material recovered is an energy savings. In addition, 90% of the manufacturing process energy needed to produce new plastics is saved by recycling.



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