Sorting Containers

Use of a counter-height sorting box speeds sorting, decreases worker fatigue, and encourages interaction among the sorters. All of these factors help build and sustain the morale of the sorters.

The following sorting box design has proven highly effective. The box is 4 ft wide, 6 ft long, 1 ft deep, and open at the top. It is constructed of 3/8-in or 1/2-in plywood with an internal frame of 2-by-3s or 2-by-4s. The long framing pieces extend 1 foot beyond the ends of the box at each bottom corner, like the poles of a stretcher. These framing pieces facilitate handling and extend the overall dimensions of the box to 4 ft by 8 ft by 1 ft. The box can lie flat within the bed of a full-sized pickup truck or standard cargo van.

A screen of 1/2-in hardware cloth (wire mesh with Asin square openings) can be mounted in the bottom of the sorting box, 1 1/2 in from the bottom (the thickness of the internal framing pieces). If the screen is included, one end of the box must be open below the level of the screen to allow dumping of the fine material that falls through the screen. By allowing fine material to separate from the rest of the sample, the screen facilitates sorting of small items and makes dangerous items such as hypodermic needles easier to spot.

To facilitate dumping of the fines and to save space during transportation and storage, the sorting box is built without legs. During sorting, the sorting box is placed on a pair of heavy-duty sawhorses, 55-gal drums, or other supports. A support height of 32 in works well for a mixed group of male and female sorters. Fifty-five-gal drums are approximately 35 in high, approximately 3 in higher than optimum, and because of their size are inconvenient to store and transport.

The containers into which the waste is sorted should be a combination of 30-gal plastic trash containers and 5-gal plastic buckets. The 5-gal buckets are used for low-volume waste categories. Containers larger than 30 gal occupy too much space around the sorting box for efficient sorting and can be heavy when full. In a typical study with twenty-four to twenty-eight waste categories, each sorting crew should be equipped with approximately two dozen 30-gal containers and one dozen 5-gal buckets. In addition, each sorting crew should have several shallow plastic containers approximately 18 in wide, 24 in long, and 6 in deep.

For optimum use of space, the 30-gal containers should have rectangular rims. They should also have large handles to facilitate dumping. Recessed handholds in the bottom of the container are also helpful. In general, containers of heavy-duty HDPE are best. Because of their molded rims, these containers can be inverted and banged against pavement, the rim of a rolloff container, or the rim of a matching container to dislodge the material adhering to the inside of the container. The containers need not have wheels. Plastic containers slide easily across almost any flat surface.

Substantial field time can be saved when the containers of each type have fairly uniform weights so that each type of container can be assigned a tare weight rather than each container. When container weights are recorded on the data form after sorting, recording a letter code that refers to the type of container is faster than reading an individual tare weight on the container and recording it on the data form.

Assigning individual tare weights to containers weighing 2% more or less than the average weight for the container type is unnecessary. Batches of 5-gal buckets generally meet this standard, but many 30-gal containers do not. Ensuring that tare weights are consistent requires using portable scale when shopping for containers.

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