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The Materials Recovery Facility
The Materials Recovery Facility uses single stream technology to automatically sort the paper, plastic, cans, and glass collected at curbside in San José. A system of belts, screens, electromagnets, and blasts of air separate paper, plastics, glass, aluminum, and other materials.

While much of the system is automated, workers help separate certain materials by hand. Remembering to dispose of your recyclables correctly helps protect these workers' health and safety (e.g., do not place needles, chemicals, or propane tanks in the recycling cart). Bales and bins of sorted materials are then taken to processing facilities before being sold as resources for new products.
Layout of the Materials Recovery Facility
Courtesy of San José Mercury News. Written by Frank Sweeney. Graphic by Reid Brown.

The Process 
  1. As incoming material moves along a conveyer belt, workers pull out large items, cardboard and plastic bags and toss them into bins. Unusable trash is thrown away.
  2. The recyclables move into a double-deck screening machine that separates newspapers, mixed paper and containers into separate streams. Material bounces over rows of square wheels spinning 1,000 times per minute. Blasts of air dislodge cans and bottles from newspapers. Gaps between rollers allow smaller items to fall onto conveyer belts.
  3. Workers again pull out any trash and discard it.
  4. Next is the trommel-mag - a large, rotating tube with small holes in the sides and an electromagnet at one end. Small items such as bottle caps fall through holes. The electromagnet snags tin cans. Then it's on to the air classifier, where a powerful fan blows lightweight aluminum and plastic onto one conveyer, and heavier glass falls onto another. Workers sort glass and plastics.
  5. An electromagnetic device diverts aluminum cans into a storage bin.
  6. Your recyclables are made into new products that we see and use every day. Examples are:
  • Cardboard from mixed paper
  • Park benches and playground equipment from milk jugs, and
  • Fleece clothing from plastic bottles
  • Toys made from recycled plastic
  • Paper products such as bags, towels and plates from recycled paper
Thank you for recycling as much as you can and for remembering to buy recycled-content products.