It's not a traditional classroom, but Waste Management's Recycling Education Center is teaching people — from young students to seniors — about recycling, and providing practical tips for going green.
The center, located at 3909 N. Runway Drive, east of Interstate 10 and north of Prince Road in Marana, has played host to school students, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, home schooling network groups and seniors organizations.
Frank R. Greaney, the Recycling Center's plant manager, said Waste Management invested approximately $100,000 to renovate and create the Education Center. It features touch screens where individuals can call up recycling information, as well as a large video screen that can show real time images of the various sorting operations on the plant's recycling line.
"We can focus our camera system on any of the processes that we perform here at the plant," Greaney said, "and we also have an e-robot in the center that talks to the visitors about recycling."
Visitors also view a video of the recycling process. They can see how the plant works and the various stages materials go through in getting recycled.
"We also have a large bale of aluminum cans that the kids enjoy, trying to guess how many cans are in the bale and how much it's worth," Greaney noted.
Once material to be recycled is dropped off at the center, it is placed on a series of conveyors and run over various screens and discs that remove cardboard and paper. An eddy current, functioning like a reverse magnet, pushes aluminum containers to a separate line where they are sorted. Plastic containers are sorted into three bunkers depending on the type and color of the plastic, and glass containers are ultimately broken into small bits and dumped in bunkers.
When the bunkers are full, the solid commodities are pushed into a baler, where they are compacted and crushed, making large bales.
Greaney said the plant receives about 60,000 tons of inbound materials each year. Approximately 9,000 tons are contaminated and not able to be recycled, meaning 51,000 tons of material is recycled yearly.
Carrie Galvin, area director of recycling for Waste Management, said the center is part of a company-wide initiative to triple the amount of recyclables it handles nationwide by 2020.
Locally, the material Waste Management recycles monthly is the equivalent of saving 24,180 trees, 178,963 gallons of oil and 12 million gallons of water, she noted.
Galvin said Waste Management is one of Marana's largest employers, with 104 employees working at the Recycling Center. It has 980 employees in Arizona who provide waste and recycling services to nearly a half-million customers.
Paula Nasiatka, co-leader with Chris Reitz of Brownie Troop 1856 from Agua Caliente, Tanque Verde and Ventana Vista elementary schools, recently toured the facility with the entire troop of 15 girls.
"The girls had selected the Recycling Center as where they wanted to go for part of their work toward a Try-It badge to help the environment," Nasiatka said. "They especially liked the hands-on visitor center and were enthusiastic about the video of how things get recycled."
Nasiatka said the girls, ages 7 to 8 in the second and third grades, were inquisitive and asked a lot of questions of Greaney.
"He gave them a lot of insight of what gets recycled, how and why," she said.
Odie Crane, a member of the Red Hat Society in Heritage Highlands, arranged a visit to the Recycling Center last month, bringing 17 members with her.
"We researched recycling on the Internet before going and had a lot of questions for them," Crane said. "We found it to be very educational and informative, and the tour was well received by those attending. We were fascinated with how mechanized the process is."