Deplastify the Planet students at Recology SF

Recology SF hosted SCET’s Deplastify the Planet course on Wednesday, Septermber 4 at the Recology SF facility. Christine Wolfe, Government Relations Manager and John Ferrari, Sr Operations Manager gave the students a tour of the facility, explained operations and fielded questions from students.

Recology SF is one of the largest recycling centers in the Western United States and processes roughly 40 tons of material and hour at it’s Pier 96 location. The team explained the challenges sorting recycled materials to minimize contamination and diversion of material to landfills. The plant and investment in technology was impressive, but still relies on human sorters and pickers during some phases of the process. The students witnessed optical scanners at work as well as the latest addition, robots using optics and machine learning to sort different types of plastic. 

The class learned how the latest restrictions by China on shipment of recyclable material has negatively impacted prices of paper fiber causing more of this type of waste to be diverted to landfills. The team at Recology is constantly monitoring markets to maximize the value of recyclable waste streams and they are careful to perform due diligence to insure international clients receiving recyclable material manage material responsibly.

The ultimate goal is to develop more recycling capacity in the United States while simultaneously reducing and reusing plastic and other materials. Recology is one of our partners for the class and a team of Berkeley students will be working to identify ways to maximize value from existing waste streams. Other teams in class are working with great companies like Method Home Products, Faurecia, Nestle and the LonelyWhale Foundation. Projects cover the full life cycle of plastics and include designing out mixed-use plastics, changing consumer behavior, tracking plastic through its life cycle and optimization of supply chains around recycled or natural products.

David Law is the SCET instructor for the course, in collaboration with Schoolab San Francisco and Brittany Bir. Keep an eye out for future updates about Deplastify the Planet.