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What Happens at a Materials Recovery Facility

Question: After your recycling is picked up, where does it go? 

Answer: Once the recycling truck has picked up your paper and other recyclables, it heads over to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). 

Your recyclables are loaded onto a conveyer belt. Workers remove contaminants like plastic bags, clothing, food scraps and holiday lights. Holiday lights are also called tanglers. 

The remaining recyclables continue down the conveyer belt. Machinery helps separate the different kinds of recyclables.

Workers at the MRF usually manually separate cardboard first. Then other paper-based recyclables are separated. 

Next, the different types of paper are baled and sold to paper mills where they’ll be turned into new paper products. 

Why Wishcycling Hurts Recycling 

“Wishcycling” is putting something in the recycling bin and hoping it can be recycled. This causes issues at the MRF and ultimately makes recycling cost more. 

Plastic bags, films and tanglers often wrap around the machines, causing workers to stop their work to cut them out. This isn’t safe. 
There are ways to recycle some of these items. For instance, plastic bags can often be dropped off at your local grocery store. 

What Can You Do?

Always check your local recycling guidelines to see what’s accepted in your area. This helps make sure your paper products get turned into new products. 

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recyclable resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative —Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately 5% of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures about $350 billion in products annually and employs about 925,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of about $65 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 43 states. Visit AF&PA online at or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper