How It Works

What Happens to my Recycling?

 Most people throw their recycling in the blue bin and never think about what happens from there. But if you’ve ever been curious where your recycling goes next, you’re in the right place. Turning a recycled bottle into a new product isn’t exactly a straight line; it involves more steps than you might expect. Our process has been perfected over the years to use resources efficiently and work as fast as possible while following local guidelines.


MRFs 101

As a materials recovery facility (MRF), we don’t pick up recycling from homes or businesses. We accept the materials from other sources and send them to be recycled into raw materials for new products. MRFs like Green Quest play an important role in recycling, ensuring your recycling has the best chance of being repurposed into new products to keep the world greener. They’re also a good source of local jobs and stimulate local economies.


Recycled Material Arrives

We receive recycled materials from haulers in Lincoln and the surrounding areas. When the trucks first arrive at Green Quest, they dump the material onto the tip floor: basically, a huge space where trucks literally tip out all of their material. At this point, everything is still in a big, messy pile.


Into the Pre-Sort Line

We receive an average of 89 tons (that’s 178,000 pounds) of material daily — that’s a lot to work through! Our skid steer roams around the tip floor to feed the material onto an infeed belt. This belt has a back-scraping drum that can sense what material is passing by. From there, your materials reach our Pre-Sort Line, where employees pick out material that can’t be recycled, or “contaminants.” The Pre-Sort Line is essential, because these items could get caught in our machinery or injure someone.


And onto the Sorting Screens

At this point, wouldn’t it be nice to have a magical machine to organize all the different types of recycling? Luckily, we have Sorting Screens to do just that, starting with cardboard.

While the materials travel along the screen, cardboard stays on top, and all the other materials fall through. The cardboard goes into its own pile. 

The other materials drop onto a different conveyer belt, on their way to another separator that will pick out the 2D material (fiber) and 3D material (containers).

From here, we bale the fiber and cardboard for shipment, while we sort the containers by grade.

Material We Can’t Accept

Some of the most common unrecyclable materials we receive are:

Shredded Paper

Aerosol cans

Paper with excess food residue

Plastic bags

Light bulbs

When Recycling is Transformed into New Products

Now that all of the materials have been processed and organized, they’re ready to be transported around the U.S. — and even to other countries — to be recycled into new products.

From Mixed Paper to Tissues

When we say “mixed paper,” we’re talking about a wide variety of low-grade paper that can be recycled into everything from paper towels and toilet paper to grocery bags and egg cartons. We ship mixed paper to Georgia Pacific in Oklahoma to be made into tissue.

From Newspaper to Envelopes

There’s a reason we’ve all been recycling newspaper for so long; not only can it be recycled back into a fiber product, it can be used for insulation and a variety of other products. Green Quest ships its newspaper to San Juan Del Rio, Mexico to be made into Kraft envelopes.

From Cardboard to…Cardboard

Did you know cardboard can be recycled over and over without losing its strength? That’s why the corrugated cardboard containers used in shipping have a high percentage of post-consumer recycled content. It just works. We ship our cardboard to three different mills around the country so it can be made into new cardboard boxes.

From PETE to Carpet

This is one of the most commonly used plastics in consumer products, found in most water and pop bottles. PETE isn’t great for more than one use, due to bacteria and concerns about the harmful chemicals needed to decontaminate it leaching into the environment. So, this plastic is crushed and shredded into small flakes, which are then spun into polyester fiber for textiles. Our PETE goes to Mohawk in Summerville, Georgia to be spun into carpet.

From HDPE to Park Benches

HDPE plastic can actually be recycled into raw material for a lot of different products. It’s the tough plastic in items like milk jugs and your laundry detergent bottle. HDPE is pretty cost-effective and safe to recycle for secondary use. It’s also very hard-wearing and stands up to sunlight and freezing temperatures, so you can find it in things like picnic tables, park benches, or even the bed liner in your pickup.

From Cans to Car Parts

Tin and steel cans are the same thing; “tin” cans are actually steel coated in tin. In the recycling process, the tin is separated from the steel, and the steel is used for new products like car parts, rebar, appliances, or — you guessed it — more steel cans! We ship our steel to a number of mills in Illinois and Indiana.

Aluminum cans can be recycled forever and are made back into aluminum cans. Once they ship from our plant they will be back on the shelf in as little as three weeks.

We accept aluminum cans from the community Monday through Friday.

From Glass Bottles to Insulation

Glass has a lot of lives — it can be used indefinitely for new glass products. At Green Quest, we ship glass to Ripple Glass in Kansas City to be cleaned, sorted, and made into new glass bottles, or even insulation for homes and businesses.

What happens to your recycling is a complicated process.

But MRFs like Green Quest Recycling have nailed down the process to ensure it’s sorted and shipped quickly. The result is a world where we can all reduce, reuse, and recycle more.