SEATTLE - Seattle began its curbside recycling program in February of 1988 with an assortment of colored, small, plastic bins delivered to customers who wanted to take part.
It caught on fast. By the next week, 58,000 residents, about 30 percent of those eligible, were signed up in the curbside recycling project.
On this November 15, America Recycle Day, 70 percent of Seattle's residential customers take part in what has become a massive industry with hundreds employed at facilities all over the state.
One-hundred-twenty employees work at Waste Management's Woodinville Center, which operates 21 hours a day and processes 50,000 tons of newspaper, 27,000 tons of mixed paper, 20,000 tons of glass and 3,200 tons of plastic per year. The company has invested millions in new technology including its newest, a laser scanner that identifies and separates various forms of plastic.
But the real work is still done by the crew on the line, whose hands work at an eye blurring pace picking items off the conveyor belts. Within hours of that process the separated items are baled up and ready for shipment to recyclers across the country and in China.
All is not perfect on America Recycling Day 2011. A struggling economy has made paper recycling unprofitable for some smaller communities, but like many businesses, that problem is expected to ease as the recession eases.