Recycling Revealed: Materials shipped across state lines, abroad

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. (WLFI) — Recyclable materials that start in Lafayette and West Lafayette go on a long and dirty journey once they’re picked up. Both companies that handle Greater Lafayette’s recyclables ship them out of state, and in some cases, around the world.

Lafayette and West Lafayette give their recyclable materials to Bestway Disposal and Waste Management. Counting the curb as the first stop, the materials make at least three more stops before they’re turned into something else.

As News 18 reported in part one of Recycling Revealed, all recyclables picked up from West Lafayette and the north half of Lafayette are taken to their second stop — a transfer station owned by the two cities, Tippecanoe County and Purdue University.

“Once the trucks start coming in, it’s [busy] all day long,” said site manager Frederick Holman.

Bestway then takes the materials to a recycling facility in Muncie. Holman said he sends about three truckloads, which can carry 23 tons each, every week.

The loads are sent unsorted, which means paper, plastic, glass and metals are still grouped together. The Muncie facility sorts the materials using a clean MRF, which commonly stands for Materials Recovery Facility.

This map shows where recyclable material goes from West Lafayette and the North half of Lafayette. Plastics go to Ohio; steel and cardboard go to Hartford City, Ind.; aluminum goes to Michigan City, Ind.; glass goes to Indianapolis; and paper goes to Illinois, Battle Creek, Mich. and China.
This map shows where recycled goes from West Lafayette and the north half of Lafayette. Plastics go to Ohio; steel and cardboard go to Hartford City, Ind.; aluminum goes to Michigan City, Ind.; glass goes to Indianapolis; and paper goes to Illinois, Battle Creek, Mich. and China.

“It’s pretty simple really,” said plant manager Jason King. “We bring the material in, dump it on the floor, run it up the feed line. All the sorters know exactly what they’re looking for and it makes the process much easier.”

The MRF uses 11 workers on seven stations to sort the loads. When the materials reach the end of this process, they are ready to be shipped to other companies which turn them into new products.

Each material is sent to a different company.

Plastics go to Clyde, Ohio to be made into, among other things, plastic lumber. Glass travels to Indianapolis. Aluminum is sent to Alcoa in Michigan City, Ind. Other metals and cardboard are all sent to two companies in Hartford City, Ind. Paper is shipped to Battle Creek, Mich., Illinois and China.

Once the material arrives, it will have stopped in four places along the way.

This map shows where recycled materials travel once they are picked up on the South side of Lafayette. Steel and glass stay in the Chicago area. Plastic is shipped to Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Aluminum also goes to Kentucky. Paper has the farthest journey, and is sent to Menasha, Wis., or abroad to Mexico, China or India.
This map shows where recycled materials travel once they are picked up on the south side of Lafayette. Steel and glass stay in the Chicago area. Plastic is shipped to Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Aluminum also goes to Kentucky. Paper has the farthest journey, and is sent to Menasha, Wis., or abroad to Mexico, China or India.

King said he didn’t have the total numbers of how many tons leave the Muncie site daily, but said “it’s a bunch.”

“That could be tonnage that’s going to the landfill, but yet we’re keeping it out of the landfill and that’s very important,” said King.

Recycled materials from the south half of Lafayette are handled by Waste Management, which collects more recyclables than any other company in North America.

Materials from Lafayette curbs and dumpsters are taken to Waste Management’s transfer station on Wabash Avenue. District Manager Tom Runkle said his unsorted loads then go to Chicago, where Waste Management has its own MRF.

Materials sorted at that site, according to Waste Management Chicago site manager Mike Tunney, are then shipped to companies who can make them into new products.

According to Tunney, plastics are taken to Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia; glass and metals stay in the Chicago area; aluminum is also shipped to Kentucky; and paper travels to China, India or Mexico, if it’s not sent to a paper mill in Menasha, Wis. Like the other materials that are handled by Bestway, these items also make four stops along the journey.

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