Sunday, October 30, 2016

Touring Cambridge's recycling facility

Have you ever wondered what really happens to that empty water bottle after you dump it in the blue recycling bin? Come on, admit it, you have.

Well, so have I and last week I had the chance to tour a recycling facility to see exactly where it goes. The Casella Waste Systems facility in Charlestown is where all of Cambridge's recycling goes, and as part of the city's contract with the company, Casella has to provide four tours a year, to school groups, or just to interested people like myself. How cool is that?!

The scenes are vaguely Dickensian, or out of 1984, but the sheer size of the operation is inspiring. I never realized that someone cares so much about trash.

Here are some facts I gathered about the process:
  • Cambridge trucks its own recycling to the facility, which is the exception. Most other communities hire Casella to do the pick-up as well
  • Cambridge sends about 700 tons of recycling there a month
  • There has to be a market for recycling. If no one is willing to buy the material, it will not get recycled
  • Newspaper is currently getting $70 a ton
  • Aluminum is currently getting around $1,200 a ton, but is a very rare commodity
  • Workers don't make a lot of money doing this job, between $12 and $20 an hour
  • The plant is open 364 days a year (Christmas is the only day Boston doesn't make them process recycling)
  • Between managing recycling and cleaning the equipment, the facility operates 24 hours a day
  • The company's founders are two brothers based out of Rutland, VT. They are the sons of the person who developed the Killington ski resort
  • For Cambridge, what doesn't go to recycling is considered waste, and of that, 50 percent goes to a landfill and the other 50 percent gets incinerated
I took some video and photos, and I share those down below. I highly recommend the tour, which is run through the city's Department of Public Works. For more information about taking the tour, you should email Paulie Kelsey at