What is a Materials Recovery Facility?

A materials recovery facility (MRF) is a specialized plant that receives, separates and prepares recyclable materials for sale to end-user manufacturers.  It is important that the materials which come out of the MRF are clean, properly sorted and relatively free of impurities.

How It Works

Step 1: It All Starts with YOU!

You begin by preparing your recyclables (e.g., you rinse bottles and jars, flatten cardboard) and place them out at the curb.

kids next to recycling and trash containers

Step 2: Materials are Collected and Delivered to a MRF

Recycling crews drive through your neighborhood and collect the materials. They transport the materials to a MRF where they are weighed and offloaded onto the floor.

Step 3: Recyclables are Put Onto Conveyor Belts
Commingled materials (i.e., steel cans, aluminum cans, glass, plastic bottles) are put onto one conveyor; while mixed paper (i.e., office paper, magazines, junk mail) is fed onto another conveyor belt. These conveyors are used to transport the material streams inside the MRF.

Step 4: Materials are Sorted
The conveyors go past semi-automated sorting lines. In this process, workers remove debris and sort the materials by size and type. In addition to hand sorting, materials undergo both simple and complex automated processes. For example, a density blower separates glass containers from plastic and aluminum. While an overhead magnet is used to remove steel cans from other recyclables.

Step 5: Recyclables are Prepared for Transport
Once recyclables have gone through all of the necessary sorting processes, they are prepared for transport. Some materials (i.e., plastics, metal cans) are compressed into large dense cubes or bales. They can then be sold to intermediate processors and manufacturers for use in making new products.

Step 6: Recyclables are Manufactured into New Products

Often, the materials are remanufactured into their original form. For example, aluminum cans are shred into small chips, melted, rolled, and cut into new cans. In some cases, however, the new product bears no resemblance to the original item. For example, plastic bottles can be used to make clothing.

Step 7: Recyclables are Sold
Following production, packaging and shipping, the new products are placed on store shelves where they are sold to consumers.

woman shopping in a store

As you can see, you play an important role in the beginning as well as the end of the recycling process. Learn more about Buying Recycled Products.

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