Recycling — we all know we should do it, but after those items leave our curb, what comes next? The Kent County Recycling and Education Center on Wealthy Street has an amazing program to inform young and old alike about the power, and the necessity, of recycling.
“How many of you recycle?” Lauren Westerman is a Resource recovery specialist at the Kent County Recycling and Education Center and she’s passionate about the power of recycling. “We are trying to reduce landfill waste. An average American is producing 4.4 lbs of trash a day. Eventually we will run out of space for trash.”
That’s why she loves showing students how the recycling process works: from the classroom to the catwalk, up close and personal with all the big machinery. “They get to experience it with all of their senses,” said Lauren.
That’s something Jenison High School teacher Karina White feels is really important for her students.
“They are the next people who are going to work here, the next politicians, the next environmental scientists, the next engineers.”
“And so, they are the ones who need to know how to take care of this problem. For some of them it is the first time they realize what actually happens after they put it out to the curb.”
That was true for 11th grader Julia Herig, “Well at first I didn’t really know how much you could recycle. My parents would always just say oh it’s a hoax it all ends up in the landfill. So when I see this, (I know) that is not the case and you get to see all this turn into new things so it’s really cool,” she said.
At the Kent County Recycling plant the process is really impressive from sorting to baling.
‘We have something between 20 and 25 people working the line every day,” said Lauren. “In December we added a cardboard screen to more efficiently recycle our cardboard, we are able to process a lot more of the cardboard, and we also added a second optical scanner, that optical scanner added an entirely new product to our recycling line. We can now recycle cartons,” explained Lauren.
“I didn’t expect like the process to be as complex as it is and it’s just really awesome to see all the machines and what actually goes into recycling and like separating it to make sure everything gets to where it’s supposed to be,” said 11th grader Samantha Miller.
Bales of sorted material are stacked high at the facility, they are ready to made into something else.
“Seeing this, it really like inspires me to recycle more and I feel like if more people came here to see the experience, it could really just inspire future generations to recycle and help the planet,” said Samantha.
And that’s the exact ripple effect Lauren is hoping for.
“Every time a tour group leaves I try to get them to make one change in their life, if you can start recycling one more item,” said Lauren. And that can make all the difference.
The Kent County Recycling and Education Center has open hours on Monday’s from 1 until 5 p.m. for self- guided tours for adults.
13 On Your Side asked what is one thing Lauren would like people to know to help their process run more smoothly at the plant. She said “recycle your grocery bags at the store, not your recycling bin — they can cause the machines to jam.”
Click here to learn much more about the Kent County Recycling and Education Center.
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