I’ve Been to “Away”

We  push our trash out to the curb once a week and when we get home we pull the empty bins back into our yards to begin another round. If we are conscious, we recycle, whether that be at curbside or our closest recycling station. We buy and collect stuff, then push it out to the curb, and someone takes it “away!”

Unlike India or Mexico where people collect trash or basura and then drop it off at the edge of town for all to see, our trash goes “away.” And out of sight is out of mind for most American’s.

In Portland’s Master Recycling course, I was able to visit our local waste management stations. I got to view some of what happens when we put our trash and recycling out at curbside. Today I’ll be showing you our tour of KB Recycling Material Recovery Facility so we can see an example of where our recycling goes.


So come along and let’s see what happens beyond your curb…

It often is not just one trash company which picks up all your refuse. In Portland there will be four different bins and three different trucks which pick up our left overs. Each city contracts in different ways, so this will vary and what you can recycle will also vary. Each items needs a place to go to – these are based on contracts with your city, the haulers who do pick-up, and the buyer or receiver on the other end.


Grey – Trash (all items that can’t be recycled below).

Green – Compost which includes yard waste, food scraps, and pizza boxes.

Blue – Recycled paper, metal and plastic. Plastic bottles, jugs and jars need to be at least 6 ounces in size. Frozen food boxes and containers, as well as paper coffee cups, are paper impregnated with plastic and can’t be recycled.

YellowGlass bottles and jars. No drinking glasses, lightbulbs, mirrors or ceramics.

Note: Those who live in other areas, may have different color containers and different approved and non-approved items for each container. The best thing we can do, is to get very familiar with the list our garbage company provides.

When I first moved to Portland, I thought they were behind the times since I had to separate out my glass from the paper, plastic and metal recycling items. But, there is good reason for this! By separating out the glass, it makes the paper much more likely to be recycled. You see, broken glass can contaminate the paper recycling process.


Paper being sorted for recycling.


Cardboard bales ready to be shipped away for recycling


Plastic bottles on the recycling floor for processing


Larger plastic containers as they are sorted by hand for shipping.


Plastic jugs baled for shipping to China.


Metal cans baled for shipping.

So a whole lot of stuff gets sorted and processed for it’s final destination. What can we do to make this go smoothly?

  1. Don’t be a “wishful recycler” where you put something in the bin hoping that will help it be recycled. Know what items go in which containers and when in doubt, ask your local waste management folks or throw it out.

  2. Remove lids and rinse out containers prior to recycling to avoid contamination.

  3. Be mindful shoppers. Plan ahead, so you get only what you need.  Always think of reduce as your first choice, then use reuse and repair as next options. Look for less packaging. Shop local.

  4. Learn about places near you to recycle items that can’t be taken at curbside – such as soft plastic bags and lids.

Plastic bags that are soft and non-crinkly can be recycled, but NOT at curbside, as they will jam in the machines, causing everything to come to a screeching halt. Plastic lids are made of various types of plastics and while they can’t be recycled at curbside, you can take them to Far West Recycling if you live in Portland or consult this guide for a place near you.

Have you ever thought about “away?” I’d love to hear your recycling questions. Please feel free to post them in the comments below. 





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