Recycling: good for the bottle, good for the can

The smell of rotting bananas wafts through the air. As the musky scent of trash left out too long drifts by on a dry breeze, spare bits of shredded paper float around high metal fences. Past large signs advising caution and explaining the need for closed toed shoes, a large pile of trash, approximately the size of a basketball court and the height of a two-story building comes into view.

In the background, lifting machines are moving, trucks are beeping, conveyor belts are carrying, workers are scurrying around and from a machine, large bundles of tightly wrapped material emerge as if by magic. This is the site of Crown Disposal, a recycling facility in Sunland where most of the trash from both Harvard-Westlake campuses gets transported, sorted and then recycled.

Ten to 12 years ago, the school switched from its earlier recycling process to this facility, Upper School Plant Manager Felipe Anguiano said. Before, large recycling bins collected all forms of recyclables, which were then sorted by student interns, Assistant to the Head of Upper School Michelle Bracken said.

Currently, cans are removed from the trash on a weekly basis by maintenance workers while the rest gets sent to the recycling facility. The cans from the blue recycling bins are also taken by maintenance workers and gardeners who have the option to turn them in for extra money at separate recycling facilities.

“That option has always been available to them,” Anguiano said. “We do our own form of recycling.”

Crown Disposal uses an intricate system of pulleys, conveyor belts and other machinery to transform its trash from the big pile by the entrance to the neatly stacked bundles standing by the exit.

First, all of the trash is dumped into one huge pile. From there, the trash is slowly fed onto a conveyor belt that carries it into the Material Recovery Facility, the machine that sorts all of the trash.

The trash is then sorted through a drum with different holes inside that separates it based on its size. From there the large pieces of trash go in one direction and the smaller bits travel on.

Next, a series of fans blows all of the paper onto a gathering wall. Wet or damaged paper gets separated out by a different set of fans. This paper is then compressed into an approximately three foot by four foot block and wrapped with wire.

The metal objects are separated based on their weight and density. Afterwards, separated aluminum and tin products are crushed to form 3,000 pound cubes of metal. These cubes will later be sent to separate recycling facilities that melt down the metal and sell it back to companies for reuse.

Plastic is sorted based on different grades. Ultra thin plastic, coming mostly from the Universal Studios Jurassic Park ride, is packaged separately from the medium grade plastic bottles. All of these are also compressed into blocks that are sent to other facilities.

Even though the majority of the school’s trash gets sent to be machine sorted, Head of School Harry Salamandra believes the blue recycling bins remain to remind students of the need of recycling in the global push for more environmental friendliness.

“I think it’s good for students to be conscious and purposely put the plastic in the bin and separate it from the rest,” said Salamandra. “It’s good that they are conscious of the fact that they have to recycle.”

While the recycling program has been a step the school has taken towards being more “green”, Bracken believes there is a lot more to be done.

“It was a great start to do the recycling bins and then this [program], but there is a lot more we can do,” she said.