Indianapolis leading the way in high-tech recycling

Has the process of recycling left you scratching your head? What goes where and where does it end up?

One company in Indianapolis is making it easier by mixing the very things people are painstakingly separating in their kitchens every day: foam and plastic.

Plastic Recycling Inc or PRI is revolutionizing the way we trash our trash.

PRI wants you to think of foam and plastic as the same thing.  They say they are the same thing but with one difference: one is puffed up with air, the other is a rigid plastic.

And now they have a revolutionary machine that allows people at home to recycle them together so there is a better chance none of it ends up in a landfill.

Hundreds of bales fill the PRI’s Indianapolis warehouse containing red Solo cups, styrofoam egg cartons or coffee cups and they all have the recycling #6 on them.

PRI is buying the two products co-mingled from 65 cities in California and shipping it to the Midwest to reduce the state's carbon footprint. PRI is making money thanks to the $500,00 Pellenc, better known as an optical sorter.

"So instead of using humans and having them decipher one type of plastic from another, we can use machinery that will do it automatically and it does it instantaneously,” said Michael Westerfield of the Dart Cooperation who is working with PRI.

The process is involved and starts by breaking up the monstrous bales of California trash.

From there, it hits the tumbler to lay out the plastics on the Pellenc. Then, near-infrared light further sorts the stuff. What can be used, heads up a belt to be chopped up into colorful confetti-like re-grind. Then it is washed in water, separated yet again in a sink float tank where gravity takes over.

"The Styrofoam is lighter so it floats to the top. And the harder plastic sinks to the bottom," said Fred Read, general manager at PRI.

Then it's dried and boxed-clean and ready to be heated.

The result is millions of pellets, sold by the ton in any color that companies like 3M or Rubbermaid want.

6500 pounds are processed here an hour.

Dart and PRI together say the optical sorter is the key.

So why is California the only state taking the leap with this new technology?

"According to the EPA, polystyrene only makes up about 1% of the weighstream,” said Westerfield.  “That's why cities are going after the other items first like your corrugated, your bottles, your aluminum cans."

New York is looking at recycling foam but is not yet doing so.  Chicago has no plans as of now.