Righteous Recycling

Not everything you toss into the blue bin can be salvaged. Learn how to maximize your home recycling by choosing what’s worth the effort.

| December 2020/January 2021

recycling-bin
Photo by Adobe Stock/Alexacel

Every other Monday, I wheel a 64-gallon jumbled mess of milk jugs, shredded paper, and refried bean cans to the curb — then righteously rub my hands together, knowing I’ve done my part to save the planet. An A+ performance. I know the contents of my bin will magically be reborn as cardboard boxes, maintenance-free park benches, and rebar to build new cities. But after trailing my bin to a recycling facility, I learn that my performance is, at best, a D. I’m with Bill Keegan, president of Dem-Con Companies, a third-generation family-owned waste and recycling management firm serving Minneapolis-St. Paul since the 1960s. We’re joined by Jennifer Potter, community outreach coordinator.

Dem-Con welcomes thousands of visitors every year. The company has an interactive trailer it hauls to schools and festivals, along with virtual reality glasses that allow kids and adults to virtually step into the recycling process. Its goals are to help build a culture that recycles naturally and automatically, and to trigger a feeling of unease when people don’t recycle.

Behind the Scenes

Keegan, Potter, and I don blaze-yellow vests, hard hats, and safety glasses and head into the facility.           



We climb 30 steps to a platform overlooking the tipping floor, where collection trucks disgorge mound after mound of mixed recyclables. Keegan shouts over the growl of trucks and machinery, “People recycle twice as much stuff with commingled or single-stream recycling like this [where all recyclables are collected in a single container] than when sorting their own stuff into bins.”

Dem-Con processes more than 50,000 pounds of commingled recyclables per hour; of that, 8 to 10 percent is garbage that should’ve been trashed, Potter says. “People figure if something goes into the trash, there’s zero chance it’ll be recycled. It’s called ‘wish-cycling.’” But those errant items wind up contaminating other materials and jamming machinery, and can be downright deadly. According to Keegan, “When in doubt, throw it out.”



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