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Photos: Denver recycling plant now welcomes food and beverage cartons

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Denver's regional recycling plant is not a good place to lose your car keys. It is, however, a good place to get rid of old cartons.

After five years spent educating the city not to do just that, Denver Public Works announced today that it now has the capability to recycle more containers than just the milk variety. Denver is now among the 35 percent of the country that can.

The announcement will spread to the general recycling public through postcards mailed to current customers later this week. Before this news, the city specifically asked residents not to include cartons in their recycling because they could contaminate a batch. But no longer: Waste Management's Materials Recovery Facility has not had a fully contaminated load in six years, and its rate of contamination is roughly 5 percent, compared to as high as 30 percent in other cities.

Starting today, Denver residents may place fiber-based food and beverage cartons -- orange juice, soup, half-and-half, creamer, etc. -- inside their purple recycling bins. "People tend to think that only milk comes in containers," Mayor Michael Hancock said at today's announcement. To correct this, organizers displayed a host of other, newly recyclable options, including a wine box. "By the way, if you date anyone who drinks wine in a carton, you should run the other way," Hancock joked.

The announcement came in the wake of Earth Day and a year after Denver facilities opened to an additional roster of plastics. At present, 65 to 70 percent of Denver households -- or 112,000 homes -- recycle. The voluntary process also includes 144 schools and 123 municipal facilities, all of which are eligible for the move to include cartons.

Right now, the plant processes 500 to 600 tons of recycling a day, one ton of which is cartons. Officials hope to increase this number greatly once the public is aware of the change. In the future, residents of neighboring cities may also drop off their recyclables at Waste Management's Materials Recovery Facility, located at 5395 Franklin.

"The equipment we have right here could pretty much handle everything you could put in it," says plant manager Steve Dures.

Paid for by the Carton Council and Waste Management, the $1.1 million facility improvements included new equipment and conveyor belts. Inside the facility, recycled products move across three-and-a-half miles of conveyor belt before being sorted, piled and tied. From there, the cartons will become tissue, tissue paper and other fiber-based products.

"We will continue to invest in new technologies, green technologies and green jobs," promises Scott Bradley, area vice president for Waste Management, Inc. "New planets are hard to come by."

Continue through for a photo tour of a Denver recycling facility. More from our Environment archive: "Earth Day: Five ways to celebrate that liberals aren't telling you about!"

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