Weird Finds At The Recycling Plant

The recycling processing plant sees a lot of variety in the materials they recieve. Because not just household items go into the mix, but all the public’s recycling and its many forms….like all the nightmare recycling bins you’ve seen at concerts, fairs, restaurants, corporations…they get sent to be sorted too.

So, naturally, the objects that come “down the line” are usually predictable, but sometimes wild. Occasionally they’ll find living animals. Like a family of kittens or mice.

Or old products that no one knows what do with that you can’t sell. Like electronics. For most cities, it’s too expensive and dangerous to recycle things like tvs — they contain mercury and large companies don’t want to pay to train masses of people how to dismantle them safely, so a lot of them are thrown out. Or shipped across the ocean to be burned. Read more about it here.

Once, they found a tiger’s head. Yes. Like a decomposing orange and black tiger’s head. They think it was something someone was going to taxidermy and maybe had it in a deep freeze? But then something went wrong and somehow it made its way to the recycling plant. As in, someone didn’t know what to do with an illegal tragedy like that and threw it out.

In other weird findings: sex toys. Which are particularly resistant to being sorted because of, well, the physics of rubber and gravity. So sometimes they fall off of the machine and cause a stir. One day, when I was in the break room, an employee was telling me about a recent incident with a bouncing phallic-like object when another employee (who I’ve never heard say anything in the month I’ve been working there) piped up and said “yea! it was an m40!” and I thought making art was revealing.

Given these examples, I’m learning a lot about my country (and yes, this residency is just in Seattle) but I’m seeing what we value, what we’re ashamed of, and how we don’t understand how everything must be reconciled with, even if it’s just a dirty jar. Really. One of the simplest things I’m learning is that every object must be at least seen by a person, then some are hand sorted. A machine sorts second, while human eyes (who work 8–12 hour shifts) sort by sight first. An example of what they see is below in real time. Hint: you are looking at a conveyor belt and the camera is being held still.

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