After you finish a Greek yogurt, you chuck the plastic container into your recycling container.

It’s co-mingled with last week’s newspapers, the cardboard box your Aunt Lois used to ship your birthday present from Minnesota and a pile of slick advertisements from yesterday’s junk mail.

If you live in Galt or surrounding towns such as Woodbridge, at Tuesday’s trash pick up the recycling container will be thrown into a California Waste Recovery Systems truck, brought to the Materials Recycling Facility and dumped onto the concrete floor.

Inside the nondescript industrial building on Enterprise Court, each item will be sorted and the recyclables bundled for resale and, ultimately, reuse. In all, 12 commodities, including recyclables such as paper, glass and even electronics, will be sorted in the process.

The recycling industry used to require customers separate glass from paper and plastic, but the MRF takes care of that.

“We’ve always been involved in the recycling aspect,” owner Dave Vaccarezza said.

The center is in constant motion, as a squad of workers busily picks through paper, plastics and metals, some of which hold substantial value. The majority of gleanings here will be shipped to China. And the center is not just a modern, cutting-edge recycling center, but a theater or sorts where school children and others learn about recycling and helping the environment.

There is nothing quite like it in Northern California, according to Vaccarezza.

Today, Cal-Waste is helping communities, including Galt, meet a state requirement that 75 percent of all commercial waste is recycled. The current rate is between 60 and 62 percent locally, according to Vaccarezza.

Sloppy beginnings

California Waste Recovery Systems was founded in 1927 by Vaccarezza’s uncle, who was more of a father than a brother to Vaccarezza’s dad. Because of that, Vaccarezza considers himself the third generation, and his son, Rudy, the fourth. Rudy serves as a project manager.

The company primarily served Lodi, picking up what was referred to as “wet waste.” That was fed to hogs kept by Vaccarezza’s uncle.

“To get the swill, you had to take the garbage,” Dave Vaccarezza said.

Now, Cal-Waste serves close to 17,000 local commercial customers weekly in Lodi, Galt, Woodbridge and Stockton, as well as Elk Grove, south Sacramento, Rancho Murietta and Calaveras County.

Back on the floor of the Materials Recycling Facility, or MRF for short, a loader pushes the mixed recyclables from a local business onto a conveyer belt to be sorted and examined by a handful of workers. These quality-control personnel search for scrap metal, plastic wrap, bags, and hypodermic needles, all of which are hazardous and could damage machines or harm workers.

As recycling items make their way up a belt angled at 30 degrees, a mist of water helps reduce the amount of dust thrown into the air. This is necessary because cardboard boxes that have sat in warehouses are quite dirty, Plant Manager Pete Lombardi said.

Items are separated via gravity, made apparent by the sound of breaking glass crashing into a machine that cleans the material by vacuuming off any dirt and labels. It will come out 96 percent clean, Vaccarezza said.

Further up the line, cardboard falls onto the ground to be pushed by a loader into a machine, where a 3,000 psi ram will create a bale and wrap it with wire to hold it together.

Before dropping onto another quality-control line, a giant magnet lifts tin cans from one of the 50 conveyer belts and chucks them into yet another container for baling. Aluminum cans are separated along the way to create their own bales.

Did you know 44,380 cans weigh 1,000 pounds? That is worth about $2,500, according to Vaccarezza.

Down the line, plastics are hand-sorted into one of three categories.

On average, workers can pick 44 items per minute; Cal-Waste’s personnel have been timed at 108 picks per minute, according to Lombardi.

Eight to nine times a day, however, workers must completely shut down the machines to remove hypodermic needles. Not only are they not recyclable — they are dangerous.

“It’s a workplace hazard that employees shouldn’t have to deal with,” Lombardi said.

Once baled, the recyclable items are stored to be sold to one of eight brokers Vaccarezza works with. About 65 percent of the items are exported to China, he said.

At the end of the line, about 16 percent of what is inserted into the MRF is deemed non-recyclable/residual trash, to be hauled to the landfill.

‘Live another life’

The plant opened in June 1, 2013, but not before industrial park neighbors raised concerns to the Galt City Council about possible noise, smell and increased traffic.

But Vaccarezza said there have been virtually no neighbor complaints. “We like to think we’ve been a good neighbor,” he said.

In all, the Galt plant processes 110 tons per day during an eight-hour shift, according to Lombardi.

The company’s operating permit allows the plant to process 150 tons per day.

Community Outreach Coordinator MaryBeth Ospital, who started working at Cal-Waste this year, said the Galt facility has recently been promoting tours and seen an increase in visitors, although it’s not yet consistent. “Not too sure everyone knows what we do here and that we are here,” she said.

The tour shows what happens with the recyclables after customers wheel the cart out to the driveway.

“Some have the notion that maybe it just magically disappears,” Ospital said. “It’s very important to educate the community on what is acceptable and not acceptable in the recycle container. It really starts with the community being avid recyclers so that they material coming in here is correct, clean and can be processed on to live another life.”

The Galt plant welcomes tours. In recent months, it has been toured by elected officials and senior citizen groups. For more information, contact Ospital at 209-912-9528 or marybeth@cal-waste.com.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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