Illinios Wesleyan students tour recycling plant

Hannah Horn

IWU students toured the Bloomington Midwest Fiber Recycling Plant on October 30th to learn about recycling and waste management services. 

Laurine Brown’s class along with the Student Sierra Coalition learned about the different materials that can be recycled in Bloomington and the potential issues with recycling like contamination. 

“When I entered the facility, I was hit with a rotting garbage smell. 

This was surprising, as this smell meant there was a significant amount of contamination present,” Devan Patel said.

Contamination of recycling bins essentially means that non-recyclable items enter into the recycling stream or recyclable items have non-recyclable substances on them. 

“I wish people knew to fully empty liquids and food from containers before recycling,” Patel said. 

If a high enough percentage of 

a batch of recycling is contaminated the whole batch can be deemed as unusable and thrown away.

“I really didn’t have a lot of knowledge about recycling. 

After seeing all of the trash and contamination presents within the items that could be recycled it was eye-opening. 

People today don’t know what happens when we throw something into a recycling bin,” Cenzo Mauro said. 

Contamination can ultimately undermine the purpose of recycling in the first place as it defeats the reduction of wastes.

“The importance of recycling was made clear to me, after seeing what the workers had to do to remove the contamination,” Mauro said.

For Midwest Fiber, the contamination of their recycling stream has roughly doubled from seven percent to 15 percent and is only expected to increase.

“I saw all sorts of materials like grass clippings, rotting wood, pillows and trash bags. 

The tour guide mentioned that some people use the recycling bin as an extra trash bin because either they don’t want to pay for another bin or their garbage bin was full,” Patel said. 

The tour showed the conditions that the workers had to deal with on a daily basis, standing and sorting materials for eight hours with limited breaks. 

Plastic bag contamination, in particular, is a large issue for the facility as many residents of Bloomington bag recyclables before tossing them into a bin. 

These bags cause major issues as they clog sorting screens, a plant feature that sorts recyclables by size, improving efficiency. 

 “I wish people knew to fully empty liquids and food from containers before recycling,” – Devan Patel

Coincidently, IWU’s Sierra Student Coalition will run a week-long tabling campaign in Dugout to educate students on waste management and how to recycle properly. 

“Living in Munsell Hall last year, I observed by moving a recycling bin away from the other trash bins it resulted in little contamination, but clearly labeling bins could also help,” Patel said. 

To improve recycling efforts in Bloomington-Normal and the Ecology Action Center has an app to assist people in understanding what can be recycled.