Curious About How Curbside Recycling in NoCo Works?

Are you like the many NoCo community members who want to know what happens to their recycling after it is picked up from the curb?

Look no further, as this blog will highlight the key processes involved after your place your materials at the curb. Whether from a home or business, GSI hauls your single-stream recycling (where bottles, cans, paper and cardboard mixed in one bin) to a recycle transfer stations where it is baled, then trucked to Denver to be separated, then sold to a buyer who will make the materials into a new product.

From your kitchen to the curb, GSI then trucks your stuff to the Larimer County Recycle Center, located on South Taft Hill Road in Fort Collins. At the Recycle Center, the mixed materials are empited onto the ground, where they will be scooped onto a conveyer belt. The conveyer system separates out the cardboard so it can be baled and sold to a buyer directly from the recycle center. The other mixed materials are placed loosely and/or baled, then stuffed into a large semi-truck.

This is a picture of recyclable material from that LCRC that has been baled and is ready to be used at the MRF.

From the Recycle Center, your recyclables are trucked to the Franklin Street Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Denver. The MRF is where the separation magic happens! Materials are again dumped onto the floor, then loaded onto a complex conveyer system, where they will be separated out into individual commodity types.

The video below is an example of how recycling is separated at a MRF. The Franklin MRF uses people to separate as well, and the steps in the process are in a different order, but this gives a good idea of the complexities and technologies used with a typical sorting system.

It is important to note that the Franklin Street MRF is a privately-owned business that is contracted to manage recyclables via the Larimer County. Because of this, detailed information on the specifics of the separation process, what exact materials should be included, and the “buyers” are of commodities are considered proprietary.

As the video shows, materials are separated out by type and then baled. Below is the latest data from the Larimer County Recycle Center and Franklin Street MRF on the category of materials sold to market, along with the estimated percent (by weight)
• 1% Plastic Jugs – natural (HDPE)
• 2% Aluminum
• 2% Plastic Jugs-colored (HDPE)
• 3% Other Plastics
• 3% Plastic Bottles (PET)
• 3% Steel
• 12% Clean office paper
• 14% Mixed Paper
• 15% Mixed Glass
• 18% Trash
• 29% Clean cardboard

Below is a picture of plastic bales that are ready to be sold.

Remember, something is only deemed recyclable if someone actually buys the material and then makes the material into a new product. Because of this, recycling is market driven. Meaning that a willing buyer must be available to make the system work.

Until recently, China purchased an abundance of recyclable material from the US. In early 2018 this came to a halt as they cleaned up their own environment and economy. With this shift, it is reported that materials such as mixed paper and mixed plastics are difficult to find a buyer for, and as with the case of mixed plastics, they are being landfilled.

The best thing you can do to ensure recycling’s sustainability is to always recycle the following high value, and 100% recyclable items that we know are good for the system. This includes Clean Bottles, Jugs, Cans, Jars, Cardboard and Office Paper.

Check out our blog regularly for the newest updates and shifts to recycling. If you have more specific recycling questions, email