Recycling gives trash new life - - Columbia, South Carolina |

Recycling gives trash new life

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Items to be recycled at Sonoco plant in Richland County Items to be recycled at Sonoco plant in Richland County

Hiding off Bluff Rd. in Richland County is  the Sonoco recycling facility.

Almost all of the materials picked up at your curbs in the midlands go there.  Trucks take the collected recycling goods and dump them a huge pile.

"One truck's coming to your house to pick up garbage," said Jane Hiller with Sonoco of Columbia.  "Another truck is coming to your house to pick up recycling.  And sometimes those trucks look the same. They use packer trucks so that they can get a lot in the truck before they come back here to empty."

The facility recently underwent a $4 million expansion.  That means instead of just newspapers and cardboard, the plant now can take in office paper, junk mail and other paper products.

Another significant upgrade affects plastics.

"When we first started, it was number one and number two bottles," said Hiller. "Then, it went one through seven bottles and now we can take most plastics."

With the plant improvements, a lot of the sorting is now done mechanically.

"We have machines that make cardboard fly over the top, newspaper fly over the top," said Hiller. "We have a glass crusher now, so all that glass gets crushed as the material comes in."

And the glass comes pouring down like rain after an optical device sorts the glass according to color.

 Plant managers say because machines are not perfect, workers man the end of the line to pull off what the machines missed, like those items that still can not be recycled.

"Plastic bags are one of those things," said Hiller. "We ask people please don't put plastic bags in your recycling bin.  It jams, they jam up our machines. Garden hoses are not helpful. But we get a lot of those. It's coming up to the time of year of Christmas tree lights. They'll start coming in; those aren't helpful either."

Eventually the goods that can be recycled are baled into 1,000-pound units.  The plastics will later breathe life into new products.

"Soda bottles primarily go into making polyester fiber that can go right back into your carpeting" said Hiller. "Half of all Americans right now have recycled soda bottle carpeting in their house or apartment."

All of the headlines from your morning paper go into a bale weighing 1500 pounds each. They could have ended up in the landfill.

"This is actually newspaper that's mechanically separated and we collect two to three tractor-trailers a day of reclaimed newspaper," said Steve Hall with Sonoco.

In the coming year, the recycling industry in South Carolina is projected to grow 12%, increasing the major green component, but also bettering the economy.

The South Carolina Department of Commerce reports recycling creates more than 37,000 jobs in the state, generating $6.5 billion in economic impact.

"It really makes a difference to put things in your curbside bin and put it out at your curb every week," said Hiller.

It's estimated South Carolinians send more than 3 million tons of trash to the landfill every day.

The reality of recycling is much of your trash can become new again.

After the Sonoco plant in Richland County sorts all the goods, it ships them out throughout the state, the nation, and even overseas to become new products.

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