When we pick up recycling items from blue carts and community recycling depots, we deliver them by truck to the material recovery facility (MRF). The facility is owned and operated by Cascades Recovery Inc., which The City of Calgary contracts to sort and recover recycling items.
Machines organize the materials, but employees also remove some items by hand to make sure they are sorted properly. About 70% of the sorting is completed by the machines with the remaining 30% handled manually by employees. Once items are sorted, they are sent to markets that turn them into new products.
To see how a modern recycling facility works, including pictures from the facility, visit How Recycling Works in Calgary or view our Recycling Facility Tour video. You can also find more details in our Waste & Recycling education resources.
For detailed descriptions of the recovery process, click on the icons below
Unloading Area - Every day, we unload tonnes of items from recycling trucks and stockpile them for processing. The materials are then fed onto a conveyer belt by a loader where it begins the sorting process.
Household Hazardous Waste - We must remove this waste manually before any material is sorted. Things like propane tanks or chemicals pose a big risk to the sorters. Also, leaky containers can contaminate other items, which we then have to throw out. Please take these items to a Household Hazardous Waste drop-off location.
Presort Area – This is where workers remove plastic bags and shredded paper by hand before machine sorting.
- Shredded Paper - Shredded paper is recovered by hand. Shredded paper must be bagged so it can be removed easily. The pieces are too small to be captured by our equipment.
- Plastic Bags - Plastic bags must be put together in a clear bag so they can be removed easily. If they aren't bagged together, then the loose bags mix with other materials and cannot be sorted.
Unacceptable material - Items like toys, clothes, tools, and electronics do not belong in the blue cart or community recycling depots. These items may be reusable or recyclable, but we cannot sort them at the facility due to the dangers they pose to the people working there and to the equipment. For more information about the recycling or disposal of various items, see What goes Where.
- Garbage or blue recycling bags - Our recycling facility sorts through tonnes of material every week and there isn't a debagging machine to rip bags open. For the safety of workers, garbage bags are never opened during the sorting process. Any materials in garbage or blue recycling bags end up in the landfill.
- Scrap metal - Items like car parts, frying pans, or lengths of metal can injure the sorters, rip the conveyor belts or jam the equipment. The lines must be stopped each time to remove this material safely. Large metal items should go to a local recycler or the Throw 'n' Go areas at City landfills.
- Polystyrene foam - Foam cups, food containers and packaging do not work with our system. The foam breaks into tiny pieces inside the recycling trucks or when unloaded at the MRF. The tiny pieces get into the equipment and cause problems with our optical sorters.
Disc Screens - Disc screens are used to remove large cardboard. Cardboard is pretty big compared to other items being recycled, so it rides over the rotating discs. Smaller items fall straight through.
Glass Breaker - A glass breaker hits the glass and breaks it into small pieces which fall through a screen. Other items like plastic, tin, foil and paper, bounce through.
Cyclone - The cyclone cleans up the glass by vacuuming off the light paper and plastic that may have fallen through the screen in the glass breaker. The glass is too heavy to be lifted and continues through.
Disc Screens (Paper) - Disc screens are used to remove paper. The flat pieces of paper ride over the rotating discs. Smaller items and containers fall straight through.
Optical Sorters (Paper) - Pieces of paper go through two optical sorters to separate them into types and remove any containers that went over the disc screens. Cameras scan items as they pass by to identify newspaper, mixed paper or containers. Jets of air then sort the items by blasting them onto different lines.
Magnets - The magnet picks up metals like tin cans and removes them from the line.
Optical Sorters (Plastics) - Optical sorters use cameras to scan items and identify them as a polycoat container, PET(#1), HDPE (#2) or mixed plastic (#3-7). Jets of air then blast them onto different lines. Beverage containers are removed by hand once the materials are separated and sent for refund.
Eddy Currents - The eddy current acts like a magnet in reverse. Items such as foil, cans or pie plates are repelled away by the current and flicked off the line onto another conveyor belt.
Final Sort - A team of sorters in the final sort area capture any material that made it past the machines. The sorters remove by hand any items that were missed. Only unacceptable material is left over.
Baling Area - The recycling items are put into square bales and stacked, ready to be moved and sold.
Loading Area - We load the recycling items onto trucks and take them to facilities that turn them into new products.