How Recycling Works


Where does your recycling go and what happens once it’s picked up?

Unless your community requires you to keep some items separate, curbside recycling is mixed together loose in a recycling bin, bag or cart. An automated truck picks up the bin, bag or cart and empties it into a large vehicle which makes stops at many houses along the way. When the collection truck is full, it delivers the recycling to a transfer station where the materials are transferred to a larger vehicle for hauling to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). A collection vehicle may also haul directly to the MRF.

Whether your recycling is picked up by your city or a private company, recyclables from Cuyahoga County go to one of three MRFs in the area. Owned and operated by private companies (Kimble Co. in Twinsburg, Republic Services in Oberlin and Waste Management in Akron), each MRF accepts, sorts and processes tons of recyclables every day. All of these facilities accept metal cans, cartons, glass bottles and jars, mixed paper and plastic bottles.

The MRF is a large facility with many conveyors, belts and machinery. The delivery vehicle is weighed as it enters and exits. The recycling is tipped on the building floor, then scooped up by a front end loader and placed on the sorting line. Large objects and contamination are removed first. The recyclables travel through an automated sorting system which uses a disk screen, magnets, optical sorters and workers on the line to separate the materials. The sorted materials are baled and sold.

Tips to Recycle Correctly

There are only five core items that belong in curbside collection for recycling: cans, cartons, glass bottles and jars, paper and boxes plus plastic bottles and jugs. See how to recycle in Cuyahoga County.

All recyclable items should be commingled, or mixed together. Items should be placed loose (not in bags) in your bin or cart before being taken to the curb.

A light rinse is all that is needed for all cans, bottles and jars.  That’s really just to keep critters away and to keep things a bit cleaner. Labels and any residue left in the container will burn off in the recycling process.

Replace caps on bottles and jars. 

Putting the wrong recyclables into your bin or bag may cause the entire load to be thrown out as trash. It’s best to follow the list of basic items that goes into the recycling bin.

It’s important to recycle, but it’s just as important to recycle correctly. The Solid Waste District encourages everyone to recycle more and recycle better.

Contamination, China and Recycling in the News

Recycling contamination is at issue across the nation and world, but is also a major problem here in Cuyahoga County. Recently, many media outlets have reported on how we're being affected by China's new environmental policies and the best way to recycle properly. See the story links below.
Cleveland WKYC TV3 (4/20/18): 'We the People' segment Be a Recycling Advocate 

Cleveland TV19 (5/21/18): Recycling in Northeast Ohio: You’re doing it wrong, and it could cost you
The Plain Dealer (6/3/18): Wishful recycling covers a host of non-recyclables, from disposable coffee cups to greasy pizza boxes

WCPN 90.3 Ideastream (6/6/18): Diane Bickett on Sound of Ideas with Mike McIntyre. Hear the interview audio beginning at 19:45.

The Plain Dealer (6/10/18): What about Solo cups and coffee lids? Recycling confusion cleared up in Cuyahoga County
NPR (12/9/17): Recycling Chaos In U.S. As China Bans 'Foreign Waste'

PRI (1/1/18): Mountains of US recycling pile up as China restricts imports

The Daily Gazette, New York (6/10/2018): Reduce and reuse first, then recycle with care. The problem is — nationwide — that contaminated product in the recycling bin is not recyclable.

NPR (6/13/18): This Is Why A Lot Of Our Recycling Is Going To Landfills

ABC News (6/20/18): Study: Plastic will pile up in wake of China recycling ban 

Trash and Landfills

There are no active landfills in Cuyahoga County. The trash generated in our homes, businesses and schools is collected at the curb or site and taken to one of the waste transfer stations in the county.  From the transfer facility, the trash is moved over the road to landfills located throughout Ohio and beyond.

Landfill tours and open houses are sometimes offered by the company that operates the site. Learn more about landfills.

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