It is bigger and runs faster than any recycling center you've seen before. Technology makes the difference, while 170 people are needed to work two shifts a day. Magnets, air and optical sensors separate the waste. Bulk Handling Systems designed and built the system.
"We apply light in the near-infrared range to an object; each type of material has a unique signature," Bulk Handling Systems President Steve Miller said. "We're able to read that signature by using spectrometers at a very high speed and when we see the target material, we're then able to eject it."
The $55 million facility is financed in large part by fees charged to San Jose's 8,000 businesses. City officials say it's cost effective because recycling reduces what gets sent to landfill sites.
"Opening a new landfill would be very expensive, it would cause rate increases for everybody," San Jose Environmental Services spokesperson Cheryl Wessling said. "The alternative would be having to haul our waste to a distant landfill which would be very expensive and of course would generate more use of carbon fuels, which would not be desirable."
Right now, 25 percent of the waste from San Jose businesses gets diverted. Two years from now, it will be 80 percent. Residential waste diversion will go from 62 to 95 percent.
Plastic bottles and containers are part of the waste stream recycled here. But there are limitations.
Oakland accountant and author of the book Plastic Free: How I Kicked The Plastic Habit And How You Can, Too" Beth Terry says a facility like this does not mean plastics can be recycled over and over.
"A plastic bottle is not going to be recycled into another plastic bottle, but into something like polar fleece or carpet or some kind of textile and those things generally don't get recycled," Terry said.
The new facility is a major step as San Jose implements its green strategy. Its ultimate goal is to divert 100 percent of the city's waste and to use it to produce energy.