EXPLAINER: What happens to the stuff you recycle?

Recycling rates are increasing in the Omaha metro are increasing, but what happens to that stuff that you throw in the blue bins?
Published: Sep. 15, 2023 at 4:44 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Recycling is increasing in the Omaha metro as people are now separating recyclables from trash.

6 News got a glimpse of how the city’s main recycling center, Firstar Fiber keeps up with all the bottles and cans you sort.

Piles of recyclables sit at Firstar Fiber, as another truck backs in to drop off another dump.

“Recycling rates are going up,” said the CEO of Firstar Fiber, Patrick Leahy.

Every year, they collect over 20,000 tons of recyclables from households, parks, and businesses both large and small.

“We try our hardest to make sure that everything that comes to us that is recyclable is recycled,” Leahy said.

Once the items get here, they get put onto a conveyor belt and get sorted. Then, it’s all packaged in bundles and shipped all over the country.

“It depends, they go to mills to be made into new material,” Leahy said. “So, paper is being made into more paper and cardboard into blown-in insulation.”

But, the process isn’t as easy as it sounds. Many times, trash ends up in the recycle bin.

“You’re going to find about under 18 percent of the stuff that people put in their bin isn’t actually recyclable,” Leahy said.

That is why they have Hefty Orange Bags that are full of hard-to-recycle plastics, which are a big help.

“[They] collect the non-recyclable plastics out of the residential homes,” said Firstar Fiber Plastics Operations Manager.

These bags are meant to hold candy wrappers, potato chip bags, Styrofoam cups, and much more. Then, these single-use plastics are then turned into pellets.

“Well, the pellets go to making plastic lumber and other durable goods,” Heck said.

Overall, for Leahy, recycling is about efficiency, and that starts with us at home.

“There’s a saying know what you throw,” Leahy said.

This means by ‘knowing what we’re throwing’ away, we can ensure all things recycled are indeed recycled.

To learn what items you can recycle click here.