The recycling center is a revelation on how exactly the rubbish of a densely populated urban center is dealt with. The positive is that the materials coming to the Sims Recycling center in Brooklyn, most won’t be completely wasted: they will be crushed, sorted, and sent off for re-manufacturng. On the one hand, it is an impressive accomplishment and a wonder of technological progress. On the other hand, our culture is so focused on consumption that all this debris is created every day, day after day.

Sims recycling is an independent company (I didn’t know this until the field trip) – publicly traded and worth $6billion. Certainly there is rewards for having the experience to recycle complex materials. A particularly interesting fact I found during my own research is that Sims is a leader in electronics recycling, which can be particularly challenging given the many different materials in each product. Sims’ experience in the area probably led Ms. Quinn to be able to speak so nonchalant about recycling electronics.

The location of the recycle center is perfect. The city had the foresight to re-purpos waterfront pier from an impound yard to the center. This allows for the flow of materials to and from the center by barges, increasing efficiency and keeping the trash off the streets.

The sorting

A crucial part of the process is the sorting that takes place. In some ways recycling is dependent upon the consumer to sort paper from plastics/metals/glass. Although, reliance on the ability of people to correctly sort the recyclables is low. The process at sims is highly focused on sorting including many shredders, crushers and separators. The use of machines to mechanically sort materials seems to be a highly complex process, one that needs several stages – complete with magnets, optical sorters and tumblers.

A class enthralled

Stepping away from the act of recycling, I found the center very well designed. From the technology used to separate materials, to the Selldorf designed modular structure. When one thinks of a recycling center it conjures the stereotypical “junkyard” may come to mind – not a state of the art facility like this one.

Things that I learned during the field trip: stay away from thermoform wrapping, toothpaste tubes are challenging, that I need to be more diligent in sorting all recyclables so that much less of my family’s waste ends up in the landfill. Seeing the center and the professions in action certainly makes me a more dedicated recycler.

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