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Indiana University


What Happens to a Recycled Item?

Have you ever wondered what happens to an item after you place it in the recycling bin on campus?  This section will show you exactly where that item goes and what happens to it after it leaves your hand. 

1.  You place an item in any of the sorted recycling bins on campus.  Generally the bins will be marked plastic or cans, mixed paper, or newspaper.  Many buildings on campus have different recycling bins that are often labeled differently.  Please be aware of what bins accept trash and what bins accept recycle.


Bins in the Kelly School of Business Bins in the entrance of SPEA


2.  Every night custodial workers empty the bins into large, white dumpsters behind the buildings.  In the case of residence halls, the bins are emptied into 95-gallon toters.  Some of the material stays sorted in the plastic bags within the recycling bins while other material is emptied directly into the bins.  Most of the material becomes commingled and is considered to be “single stream” recycling.


Outdoor bin at MSB II Outdoor bin next to trash dumpster


3.  The recycling dumpsters at most academic buildings on campus are picked up by Building Services and brought to Hoosier Disposal for recycling.  Hoosier Disposal picks up the 95-gallon toters at the residence halls.  Finally, Hoosier Disposal will pick up baled cardboard from the residence halls dining operations. 


Hoosier Disposal recycling truck Hoosier Disposal Recycling Facility


4. At the Bloomington facility, Hoosier Disposal bales sorted materials for direct sale. For the most part, Hoosier Disposal bales mixed paper and cardboard. They will also bale some plastic and aluminum if it comes in sorted. They contract with a number of buys in the greater Midwest for recycled items.


Unbaled material waiting to be baled
Baled material waiting for transport


5. Hoosier Disposal uses semi truck trailers to transport baled material to partners in need of specific material, such as paper or cardboard.


Baled material in semi truck trailer Recycled books from IU Law Library


6. While Hoosier Disposal bales some recyclable items, they are not able to process commingled material as they do not have the proper sorting equipment. Commingled material is collected in once place and then loaded into a truck.


Commingled material dock Commingled material close up


7.  A truck then transports the commingled material to another facility in Indianapolis. This facility is owned and operated by Republic Services, the parent company of Hoosier Disposal.  The Republic Indianapolis Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) handles all of the material in Indianapolis and the surrounding region.


Sign at entrance of facility 96th Street Republic Services MRF


8.  Once the material arrives at the Republic Services facility it is unloaded on the ground.  Then, a front loader will load the material into a massive hopper.  A glass breaker is used here to remove 70% of the glass.  A conveyer belt moves the material from the hopper to the first area of separation.  In this initial screening area, material is hand sorted to remove items that aren't recyclable.  Some items are also removed at this stage to be recycled.  These include plastic bags and phone books.


Hopper conveying material to first stage Hand sorting commingled material


9.  After the initial stage of sorting, the material moves through a massive machine that separates most of the material. A tumbler will remove aluminum cans, plastic bottles and other plastic containers.  A magnet will remove most of the steel cans and other metals.  Another weight sensor will convey all of the glass pieces into a dumpster to be shipped out.


Cardboard next to sorting machine Plastic material separated by machine
Glass dumpster Glass conveyor
Cardboard dumping site Sorting machine


10.  After the material goes through the machine it is inspected one more time by the human eye.  This final stage of screening is to ensure that the only material that leaves the conveyor belt is newspaper.  This particular facility employs approximately ten to fifteen hand sorters.


Vacuum used by hand sorters to remove plastic bags Newsprint is the final product coming out of the sorting machine


11.  This facility will bale all mixed paper, newspaper and cardboard on site.  The aluminum cans, plastic bottles and other containers are sent to another facility in downtown Indianapolis for further sorting and baling.  Republic Services is working to move the machinery from the downtown facility to the 96th Street facility to streamline the process. 


Paper being baled Stacks of baled paper awaiting transport
Unsorted plastic and aluminum waiting transport Glass shards with shredded paper awaiting transport


12.  The material from the facility will be shipped to buyers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Iowa, and Missouri.  The material is used to make a wide variety of products including: shopping bags, plastic lumber, drainage tile, new beverage cans, and many other items.  This facility will process approximately 135 tons of material a day.