Goldberry Woods

Check Rates

What Happens to your Recycling in Southwest Michigan? We Followed the Truck

Have you ever wondered where your recycling goes? We did too as we started to put together a more comprehensive recycling program for our guests and staff. After hearing disparate information about what actually gets recycled, we decided to follow our recycling truck’s route to a plant.

It turns out that our local Garbage company, Lakeshore Recycling and Disposal, transports our recycling all the way to Recycling Works out in Elkhart, Indiana. We couldn’t believe how far our waste was traveling, and at first worried about how sustainable it was for it to travel such a distance, but we learned that our address isn’t even close to the edge of Recycling Work’s reach. In fact, this plant receives waste from within a 100-mile radius of Elkhart, but with every step further we took into the plant we knew it was worth the distance they were traveling.

When we arrived on-site we were greeted by the plant manager, Daniel Zelaya, who guided us through the state-of-the-art recycling facility that was installed in 2009. Daniel told us how they have invested over $10 million into their equipment, and that they plant to continue expanding.

Plant one was our first stop on the tour, where bales of aluminum cans and paper were sitting ready to be sold to a third party who processes the material for reuse. Potential products include napkins, paper towels, and drywall.

Then, we went into the main building: plant three. The sound of machinery filled our ears, as our eyes were met by an imposing line of green machinery that stretched into the other room. Though most of the process is autonomous, we could see employees quality-checking the stream of material, picking out items that could slow the machines down, such as trash bags and food.

Daniel led us to the beginning of the line, where mixed post-consumer material gets dropped into a large room. He said the facility is capable of processing over 450 tons each day, which will come in handy as they continue to expand their operations. He also pointed out the high-tech fire system that monitors the materials for spikes in temperature. Batteries are the main cause of fires, and they have burnt other facilities to the ground in the past.

To start the process, post-consumer materials are slowly loaded into a machine that breaks them up. As the items move down the line, sets of screens separate out the cardboard and newspaper, which comprises about 50 percent of all recycling. These screens also crush the glass, which falls through onto another conveyor belt that follows along the belly of the first. Then, powerful magnets are used to pull out any metals. Then, another machine uses a light scanner to detect what types of plastic are coming through, utilizing AI technology to shoot puffs of air to make materials go down the correct belt. At this point, the separated materials were compressed into large bales that reminded us of Wall-E.

Daniel explained that as much as 98 percent of the collected items are recycled: even materials that weren’t on the list provided by our garbage company are recyclable, such as scrap metal and huge plastic container. Plastic film is the only material that has no current use, though there is some potential for it to be turned into a pelletized fuel source. As of now, the best option is to search your area for stores that take plastic film.

The biggest challenge the plant faces is matching the purity of the sorted recyclables to the needs of their clients while maximizing profit. Though the purity of their sorted products are much higher than the industry standard, they still have to work hard to find buyers and sort their product in the most efficient way. For instance, one potential buyer requested mixed material, but when they backed out it left the plant sitting on a bunch of bales that are essentially unsalvageable because other buyers can’t use that exact mixture of recyclables. 

All things considered, we were very impressed with the capability of Recycling Works. It was amazing watching the high-tech machinery at work, which is capable of removing those few items that are nonrecyclable with easy. Clearly single-stream recycling is the way of the future because it allows consumers to throw plastics 1-7 and most e-waste into the same can with the knowledge that almost all of that material will be reused. Studies show that the ease of recycling in this manner tends to increase participation within communities by about 30 percent. 

If you are interested in seeing the recycling center for yourself, watch the video below of our tour!

Going forward, we are aware that at least a small portion of our recycling is bound to end up in the landfill, plastic packaging and waste should be reduced in the long-term, and we need to be concerned about the amount of plastic being created. However, we are also reassured by the fact that Recycling Works is doing such a great job sorting and repurposing our recycling.

On our own property we are creating clear labels for our compost, chicken food, and recycling. We plan to set up separate bins for batteries and other items that need to be dropped off at special sites. Hopefully this will enable full participation in waste reduction, as the foundation of our business is built on sustainability.

3 thoughts on “What Happens to your Recycling in Southwest Michigan? We Followed the Truck

    • That’s one of the reasons we wanted to find out! Rumors of things going to landfills, rumors of certain types of paper and plastic not getting recycled, etc. We wanted to find out ourselves!

  1. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this blog post about When you recycle, do you ever think about where it ends up? We did the same thing when we started thinking about ways to improve our recycling efforts for both our customers and our employees. We decided to trace our recycling truck’s trip to a plant after hearing conflicting accounts of what actually makes it into a recycling facility. If you click on the link, you can find out why I liked this site so much and why I think you might, too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Call for Assistance
Text us Button Icon
Call Business Icon


Rooms button Icon


Direstions Map Icon


Photo Gallery Icon