Force Fields, Air Jets and Nanotechnology: Recycling for the Modern Age

Tulsa Master Recyclers Association

HIGH-TECH RECYCLING: American Waste Control’s 2012 upgrade to its Material Recovery Facility, also known as Mr. Murph, converted the system to a fully-automated, single-stream recycling facility jumping recovery rates from 15 to 95 percent.

Courtesy American Waste Control

Sometimes having a cause such as recycling can feel a bit lonely, but what a treat to see award-winning actor, Jeromy Irons getting into talking trash. His new movie, Trashed, can be seen online. Touted as a docu-feature, Trashed takes you around the globe as Irons reveals the world’s growing issue with waste.

What waste issue, you say? The reports that the average American generates nearly one ton of trash each year at approximately 4.4 pounds of trash every day. The first step in lowering that number is using less stuff. After that, buying products made from recycled products that use less packaging and, finally, recycling.

To help us recycle more quickly and easily, a clean system now calls Tulsa home through American Waste Control and Tulsa Recycling and Transfer.
stands for materials recovery facility and oh, what a facility it is! In a dance all its own, this computerized system of conveyer belts, air jets, magnets and nanotechnology can identify and disperse almost 200 tons of recyclables per day.

Let’s go through the process:
First, trash from the tipping floor is transferred to a hopper. It’s transported up the conveyer belt where it’s metered for consistent volume. As incoming material moves along the conveyer belt, workers pull out items that are not recyclable such as plastic bags or yogurt containers. These items are placed in a bin and transported to Tulsa’s trash-to-energy plant.

Next, the recyclables continue down the conveyer belt to a three-tiered sorting system. The screener, a big wheel that tosses and loosens materials, allows the cardboard to float to the top of the discs and 3-D material, which refers to any recyclables other than paper, falls to the platform below. Since glass is the heaviest, it’s crushed between steel plates, drops to the bottom level and is transferred to the glass cleanup system.

Items then pass through two polishers which separate out the newspaper. This material is then quality checked and placed in to bins for later baling.
Now that all the fiber and glass have been removed, the remaining 3-D products, such as metal and plastics, move on to the second stage of processing.

A cross belt magnet pulls all metals from the conveyer stream with 100 percent accuracy. The next stage uses an anti-magnet called an eddy current. This machine creates a force field that repels aluminum up and over a divider while forcing the plastics to fall down to another conveyer belt for the next sorting stage-optical scanning.

This optical scanning incorporates nanotechnology. In less than a few seconds, the optical scanning identifies the different plastics and exactly where they are located on the conveyer belt. This process ignites tiny little air blowers that separate plastic no. 1 from or plastic no. 2.

The final optical scanning pass separates the natural or clear from the colored plastics. By identifying each plastic’s position on the belt, air jets blow colored plastic into one bin while clear plastic falls off the belt into a separate bin.

When all materials are sorted, a driver uses a tractor to get each pile onto a conveyer belt that brings them on to a baler. The baler compresses the material, which can then be shipped off to create new products from the recycled material. Each bale can weigh anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 pounds.

This system shows how technology can help us create a cleaner, easier way to recycle needed materials. Manual sorting netted a 15 percent recovery rate while the clean system touts a success rate of 95 percent.

If you do not have recycling pickup at your curbside, you can drop your recycling off at a Mr. Murph location. Find one near you at

Follow me on Twitter @TrashTalkTulsa where I’ll post a link for a video that takes you intimately close to all the recycling action.

Updated 07-30-2013

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