‘Tis the season of Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping deals. 12-year-old guest columnist Ronja McArthur reflects on a field trip to the Dimeo Lane Resource Recovery Facility and encourages thoughtfulness this holiday season.

Have you ever had a can that you get at a birthday party filled with lemonade? You take a long sip and it tastes so refreshing and good, but then it is empty. You search the bottom for a last droplet and then walk over to recycle it.

A couple days later a truck comes and takes it to the recycling center. The truck drives around to where they dump. A school group in orange vests watches eagerly as the driver opens the hatch. Part of the truck rises into the air and all the recycling comes pouring out, including the lemonade can.

recycling2The school group follows their guide up the stairs to see the recycled items pulled up and churned by giant gears. A conveyor belt transports some of the recycled items to a group of workers. They sort some things that go to the landfill (a term we learned called “wish cycling” where people put things in the bin just hoping it can be recycled) and they let the items to be recycled go by.

Suddenly, there is a beeping sound and the conveyor belt stops. The school group gasps. A worker cuts away a cord of plastic that jammed the wheel. The tour guide talks about how long strings damage the machine.

As the school group goes on, a can speeds down the conveyor belt and gets sucked up and dumped into a bin filled with other cans. The cans travel to a big machine that compresses and binds them into huge cubes to be shipped somewhere to be made into something new. The school group plays “I spy” as they find plastics and other things that don’t belong with the aluminum. The sorting process is not always perfect. The students move on, seeing a mountain of metal and a hill of glass.

After going through the tour and learning more about the process of recycling, I learned that each recycling center accepts different things. You can’t recycle a lot of items even if it has the three arrows triangle symbol on the package.

Try to make good shopping choices. Pre-cycle and buy fewer packaged products. Refuse plastic straws and bags that could become harmful to the environment. And the next time you go to buy lemonade for a party, instead of getting individual cans, try making your own. You can change the world by helping to reduce, reuse, and recycle.

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Middle school students from Alternative Family Education (AFE) don hardhats, orange vests and radio headsets to tour the Dimeo Lane Resource Recovery Facility and learn how the city sorts and sells recyclables. Photo by Leslie O’Malley, Waste Reduction Educator, City of Santa Cruz Public Works.

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