Sorting machine making recycling more efficient in Lincoln

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LINCOLN, Neb. -- In 2032, Lincoln's landfill is expected to be full, which means the city would likely have to use hard-earned tax dollars to expand it or buy more land. However, one Lincoln company's new machine is making recycling more efficient, which could buy the city more time and save tax-payer money.

Carl and Linda Gallagher have been recycling for years.

"I'm interested in how things work," Carl said.

Tuesday, the couple toured Mid America Recycling and got to see where things go after they toss them in their recycling bin.

"We just put it all in the barrel and at the end of the week we put it all out by the curb and it lands in a place like this," Carl said.

Once garbage haulers pick up recycling bins each week, they end up at one of three companies in Lincoln that sort through the recyclables. Mid America Recycling is one of those places.

"We were having to do it manually," Mid America Recycling General Manager Kelley McReynolds said. "We didn't have any automation help, and it really slowed down the process and it hurt the economics of what we were doing."

In May, the company started using a new machine that sorts items for them. It's increased their efficiency and amount of work, jumping their recycling levels from just one and a half tons per hour to up to 12 tons per hour.

"We increased our capacity, so we were able to bring on more volume, and as we brought on more volume, we needed more sorters and more equipment operators and that type of thing," McReynolds said. "So, it actually created about five new jobs in the Lincoln area."

The machine's ability to recycle more at a quicker pace could end up saving tax-payers money and benefiting the environment by reducing the amount of trash thrown into the landfill each day.

"I think the long timeline, there's going to be an economic driver," Carl said. "Sooner or later, the Bluff Road landfill is going to be full and we'll have to buy land and open another pit."

As it stands now, Lincoln's overall recycling rate is around 25 percent. If more people recycle, that's less trash that goes into the landfill and will help delay the need for another one.

Right now, recycling in Lincoln is not mandatory. People can pay for curbside service or drop off at public recycling sites.

Earlier this year, Mayor Beutler vetoed a proposed recycling ordinance that he said was basically gutted.

The city said on its website, roughly 42 percent of the waste currently put into landfills from Lincoln and Lancaster County is recyclable and close to half of that waste comes from households. That represents about 86,500 tons of aluminum and tin cans, plastic containers, newspapers, cardboard and more.