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Beyond the blue bins: New American Chemical Society video on recycling

April 20, 2012

Just in time for Sunday's celebration of Earth Day, the American Chemical Society (ACS) today released a video revealing the journey that recyclable materials take beyond those blue curbside bins. In the latest episode of ACS' award-winning Bytesize Science series, viewers take a tour of a typical recycling center to see how these facilities sort the mountains of recyclables they receive every day. The video is available at

It points out that the average American generates about 4.5 pounds of trash every day. That's almost 250 million tons of waste every year - enough to bury more than 93,000 football fields in six feet of trash. Less than 25 percent of that is recycled. The rest winds up being burned or buried in landfills. Scientists say we could reuse or recycle more than 70 percent of that waste, which includes valuable materials like glass, aluminum and paper.

The video shows how the Montgomery County (Maryland) Recycling Facility in suburban Washington, DC, serves as one of the first links in the recycle-reuse chain. It receives more than 80,000 tons of mixed plastic, aluminum and other recyclables every year, and uses staff and machinery to sort out the various materials. Machines later compress the materials into large blocks - or "bales" - that can be made into new products. Those trashed aluminum cans, for instance, may become the engine block or alloy wheels in a new car or truck. Scrap paper may get a new life in tomorrow's newspaper, paper bags or other products.

American Chemical Society

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