Tuesday, October 7, 2014

SUST 405 Students Tour Sunset Park Material Recovery Facility

In Carl Zimring's SUST 405 Production, Consumption, and Waste seminar, students analyze ways in which waste is created, defined, and managed in industrial society, and they create recommendations for improving problems with the waste stream.

The seminar includes discussions, research, readings, and site visits. This week, the students visited the Sims Material Recovery Facility (MRF) in Sunset Park, where New York City's residential recyclables are sorted. 

In addition to being the conduit between household recycling and the industries that use the materials in manufacturing, Sims provides educational opportunities about both the facility and its processes. One room is an interactive exhibit where you can see which materials may turn into particular products. The exhibit contains several examples of clothes and goods comprised entirely of recycled material, useful for a course concerned with waste reduction.
After an introduction to the facility by Education Coordinator Eadaoin Quinn, the class took the walkway over to see materials arrive.
The MRF handles the approximately 19,000 tons of metal, plastic, and glass that NYC's Department of Sanitation collects from local households.
Once materials enter the facility, they are sorted by a combination of machinery and humans rapidly separating into separate streams of ferrous and nonferrous metals, various plastics, and clear and colored glass.
 The Sunset Park MRF opened in late 2013 after several years of design and construction. The result is aesthetically more pleasing than most MRFs, with decent amounts of natural light and ventilation, and less overwhelming odors and particulate matter than many. The logistics include over two miles of conveyor belts snaking through the sorting room.
Students were amazed at the scale of the facility, with the mountains of plastic bottles being processed. The waste stream revealed that the results of an earlier assignment prompting students to complete one week's personal waste inventory were representative, with packaging from food and beverages generating the bulk of the students' waste.
We then returned to the classroom to discuss the students' experiences, using the walkway with a view of Manhattan.
Watching the city's recyclables being sorted gives some perspective on the importance of design for recycling and waste reduction strategies, themes SUST 405 will continue to explore for the rest of the semester. The class thanks Eadaoin Quinn and Sims for providing us this educational opportunity. 

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