A front-end loader is used to contain the mountain of recyclable materials brought to Recycling Works in Elkhart. Despite problems in some areas, local recycling firms have continued to find markets for recycled materials. Staff photo by Michael Caterina
A front-end loader is used to contain the mountain of recyclable materials brought to Recycling Works in Elkhart. Despite problems in some areas, local recycling firms have continued to find markets for recycled materials. Staff photo by Michael Caterina
One by one, the massive trucks pull into the Recycling Works Waste Collection complex on the near southwest side of Elkhart.

They take turns backing into a mountain of seeming rubbish where they dump their loads. Every so often, a front-end loader moves in to push materials up the side of the mountain or dump a scoop of material into a semitrailer size hopper.

The hopper feeds a fast-moving belt at the complex, which once served the mighty New York Central Railroad. It isn’t garbage; it’s mostly highly recyclable materials that are collected from recycling programs within a 100-mile radius of the facility. 

Workers along the belt pick off cardboard as it moves past; others pull off various types of plastic or refuse that doesn’t belong in recycling. Magnets and other gadgetry separate aluminum, tin cans and PETE or No. 1 plastic.

Contamination is the bane of recycling efforts and it’s the reason China and some other countries began rejecting bales of recycling materials from the United States if it contained excessive amounts of other materials.

That led to a crisis in recycling over the past year.

As the recycling industry sought out new markets to process the materials, prices plummeted because of oversupply, and that made it more desirable for some places to simply dump recycling materials in landfills or figure out new solutions such as converting the materials into energy by burning them.

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