Take a tour of a modern recycling facility with Ars Technica

Ars Technica tours a large US recycling facility. The article offers blend of potentially contestable commentary and fascinating photos and descriptions of modern recycling. 

Recycled materials are only valuable if they’re pure—a collection of a single type of metal or plastic that can serve as a feedstock for manufacturing or other industrial processes. The economics of recycling would actually be spectacular if you could get people to separate out a dozen individual classes of recyclables and then deliver them to a recycling center.

Unfortunately, there’d be almost no recycled materials then, since almost nobody would put in the effort to do all the sorting and carting. In fact, sorting recyclables into anything more than one or two separate streams causes the recycling rate to plunge. Single-stream recycling has a big advantage in transportation terms, as well. When trucks aren’t required to have spaces dedicated to individual recyclables, they’re more likely to end up completely filled before they bring the material to its destination.

That pushes the problem of separating out pure materials to the recycling center itself. Here again, economics limits the choices: the more people involved in carefully distinguishing each type of recyclable, the more expensive the process. For recycling, automation is key. But how can a machine distinguish different types of material and separate each of them out?
Ars Technica

These brief behind-the-scenes glimpses are compelling. This system is considerably more sophisticated than systems found in smaller towns like Kingston, for example. It also highlights, if implicitly, the tension between the politics of waste management, technical limitations and possibilities, and individual responsibilization.