How the Recycling Center works

Recycling Center Processing LineThe 57,000 square foot Montgomery County Recycling Center sits on approximately nine acres of land on Route 355, just south of Shady Grove Road. The facility is near the County's Solid Waste Transfer Station.

Construction of an approximately 7,000 square foot addition to the Recycling Center's tip floor was completed in November 2001. The addition, which was added to the west side of the existing building, provides more area for receipt of commingled material and allows for more flexibility in operating the Recycling Center. The addition also accommodates the ability to handle more material as the population of the County continues to grow. A new processing system was installed in Summer 2002.

The Recycling Center plays an important role in the recycling system. It makes recycling easier for residents. You don't have to sort your glass, cans and plastic bottles because the Recycling Center does it for you.

After you put your recyclables at the curb, the recyclables are collected and brought to the Recycling Center. Here, glass, cans and plastic bottles are inspected, sorted, baled and trucked to mills and plants where the recycled material is made into something new. Waste paper is shipped to paper recyclers. Yard trim is collected and then composted at the Montgomery County Compost Facility.

Because the recyclables are used as raw material for new products, they must be free of any contaminating material. That's why it's so important for residents to know and follow the guidelines for preparing recyclables.

Once recyclable materials are made into new products, then it is up to you again. To complete the recycling process, buy products made with recycled materials. That closes the recycling loop!

Tipping Floor

Recycling collection trucks unload glass, plastic, steel and aluminum containers onto the tipping floor.

Truck unloading recyclables

The trucks also unload mixed paper.

Pile of mixed paper

Front-end loaders then push the commingled materials onto a conveyer belt that leads to the processing area. The materials then fall onto an inclined conveyer that carries them to the pre-sort station.

Conveyer belt

Pre-sort Station

At the pre-sort station, workers remove non-recyclable items as trash. They take out aluminum foil, paper, and large plastic containers for recycling. Sorters also divert PET thermoform packaging (e.g., plastic clamshells), plastic flower pots, and plastic pails and buckets for sorting at other stations.

Recyclables continue to move along on conveyers to various stations as follows:

  1. Under an electromagnet, to remove steel, tin and bimetal cans, which are conveyed to a storage silo;

  2. Onto a vibrating screen which catches small bits of broken glass that are too small to be sorted;

  3. Through a trommel (a steel frame with a spinning screen) which catches bits of paper, broken glass, and bottle caps not previously captured. A magnet removes cans missed by the electromagnet in Step 1;

  4. Into the Air Classifier, which pushes the aluminum and plastic upwards by air currents, and then into the Cyclone, where they are separated from the air stream and go to Light Item Sorting. Heavier items (unbroken and large glass pieces) fall to the bottom.

Workers at the Pre-Sort Station

Light Item Sorting

Workers sort plastic by type and drop each into tubes where currents from air blowers propel the material into storage silos.

Workers at the Light Item Sort Station

Aluminum passes over an eddy current magnet that causes the cans to have magnetic charges that repel each other. See the cans "POP" off the line over a divider onto connecting conveyors. Material other than aluminum cans falls on the short side of the divider onto a separate conveyor. Additional sorting of recyclables in this material occurs on a conveyor directly below the light item sorting conveyor.

Cans continue on conveyers that lead to a tube where air current moves the cans to a storage silo.

Workers at the Light Item Sort Station

The Blower System

The vertical tubes, and the chutes on top of them, move plastic, once sorted, to storage silos via air pressure.

View of blower system

Once sorted, aluminum, plastic and steel are stored separately in silos until they are to be baled.

View of storage silo

Glass Sorting

Conveyers take the unbroken and large glass pieces to a sorting station where green, brown, and clear glass is dropped into separate bunkers for storage until being sent to a processor.

Workers at glass sorting station

The Blower System

Non recyclable material (residue) is conveyed to a compactor and taken to the Transfer Station for disposal.

View of compacter


Balers compress plastic, steel and aluminum containers into a large block, called a bale. Baled materials are sent to processors to be remade into new products. (Glass is not baled, and is loaded onto trailers for its journey to market.)

Bales of plastic bottles