The Recycling Education Center at Sims Municipal Recycling's materials recovery facility (MRF) in Sunset Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., provides New York residents of all ages with a safe space to learn about how the city’s recyclables are processed.
Sims has a long-term contract with the New York City Department of Sanitation for the processing of residential metal, glass and plastic recyclables, and the MRF’s original proposal included plans for the education center, which opened in the fall of 2014.
“We had a lot of people asking us to come see where we process the city’s recyclables, but there was never a safe environment to have visitors come to our MRF,” says Sims Education and Administrative Coordinator Eadaoin Quinn. “We have now prepared a space that’s safe for people to come visit, and we are happy to show what we are doing here.”
Equipped with five interactive displays, the Recycling Education Center is designed for visitors to easily understand what goes on behind the scenes in a MRF. The educational tours kick off in a presentation theater area, where visitors watch videos and participate in quizzes on a big screen. From there, visitors begin their journey through the center’s series of interactive displays.
The first display, Material Origins, focuses on natural resources and where materials come from. For example, the display may showcase how a plastic bottle in a store came from oil and trace how oil is extracted from the earth.
The second display spotlights New York City’s recycling program and includes information from the New York City Department of Sanitation on what should and shouldn’t go in trash and recycling bins. It also highlights the special takeback programs that are offered to some New York City residents.
The third display breaks down how the recycling process works and what happens inside a MRF. In this display, visitors can weigh recyclables on scales and dump the recyclables out the same way a truck would weigh in and out. This display also features spinning conveyor belts that separate ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals and air jets where visitors can sort different types of plastic and blow them into the appropriate bins. Lastly, there is a manual sorting section where visitors can place items on a conveyor belt and sort them into different categories.
At the Work-It Station, the fourth display, visitors can learn about the various jobs in the recycling industry by spinning the Recycling Jobs wheel. The wheel includes a range of job titles, such as teacher, lawyer, engineer and more. This station helps visitors understand the different roles of recycling other than the common role that they see, which are those who pick up recycling at the curb.
The final display shows how 12 different items can be turned into new products after they are recycled. For example, visitors can learn how a recycled plastic bottle can be turned into a jacket.
At all of these displays, visitors are encouraged to answer questions or solve problems to enhance the learning experience.
The center had 7,500 visitors last year, and it’s on track to have more visitors this year. While the center targets those in grades three through eight, the center has received visits from college students and children as young as preschool.
“We have also received visits from manufacturers and others who are involved in the recycling industry,” says Quinn. “The center is a great place for those in the industry to see what’s happening to the materials they are making. Some materials may be very hard to recycle and this provides manufacturers with that knowledge to perhaps choose a different material or label to make recycling easier. We are happy to support this type of dialogue between manufacturers and recyclers.”