LEGO League students got a chance to do a little research on this year's FLL challenge topic when they visited the County Waste facility on South Pearl Street on Wednesday. District Manager Dan Kurtz spoke to students about recycling and many of the challenges faced by his staff in handling the vast amount of single-stream recycling material that comes through the facility.
Single-stream recycling (SSR) allows consumers to put paper, glass, cans, cardboard, plastics and other approved recyclable material in a single recycling bin for collection. SSR makes recycling easier, thereby reducing the amount of recyclable material being sent to landfills. But all that material must be sorted once in reaches the County Waste facility, and that's no small task!
As the largest SSR company in the Capital Region, County Waste processes over 12,000 tons of waste per month. That's a lot of paper, plastic and cans to sort. The task would be nearly impossible without the help of some fast-moving machinery. Trucks, bulldozers and conveyor belts help move the material around the facility. Magnets pull metals from the pile, and scanners help read the different types of plastics, so they can be properly sorted and sold for reuse.
Mr. Kurtz explained the problems that certain items can cause for their equipment, such as when hoses, hangers and film get wrapped around gears and shut down their machines. A staff of approximately 150 employees keep the facility running smoothly and help sort out what the machines miss. It's dangerous and dirty work, and many items that come through the facility (such as medical waste, sharp objects and broken glass) can pose health or safety concerns for staff.
Afterwards, students donned hardhats and reflective gear and got to tour the facility, taking in the sights (and smells!) for themselves. We know they'll use the experience to help tackle their FLL project mission to "make less trash or improve the way people handle the trash we make." Good luck teams!