Thursday, September 6, 2012

Green Job Series: Careers in Recycling—Sorters

Collected recyclables are taken to an MRF (Materials Recovery Facility) to be sorted and processed. At MRFs, workers unload the recycling trucks, and dump the recyclables onto slow moving conveyor belts. As the recyclables move down the conveyor belt, they are sorted into different groups by their material. This installment of The Daily Leap's green job series describes the job of a sorter.


In single-stream recycling systems, many different kinds of recyclables are collected together. Sorters separate the various types of recyclables so they can be processed.

Job Duties

Sorters work along conveyer belts in MRFs. As waste materials come down the conveyer belt, sorters pull out any items that cannot be recycled and should be disposed of. They sometimes work as quality control inspectors and remove unwanted materials from a single stream. For example, they might remove paper products from a stream of plastic containers.

At older MRFs, sorters are also responsible for separating all the different types of recyclables by material type. MRFs are increasingly relying on automated equipment as a faster way to sort recyclables. Even in these plants, however, sorters are necessary to ensure that no stray recyclables fall into the wrong group. Sorters also monitor the waste stream before it reaches the automated equipment to pull items that could damage the machinery, such as garden hoses, from the conveyer belt.

Education and Training

There are no specific education requirements for sorters. Many companies conduct drug tests and background checks on prospective employees. Sorters need to be physically capable of working on their feet for the entire day. They also need strong backs to handle repeatedly bending over to pick items off the conveyor belts. Sorters must have excellent vision to spot items as they come down the conveyer belt.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have data specifically for recycling sorters at MRFs; however, these workers are included in the occupation laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand. The median annual wage for laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand in the remediation and other waste management services industry group was $23,570 in May 2010. The wage is the median annual wage for the entire United States. Wages vary by employer and location.

For more detailed information on sorters in the recycling industry, follow the Occupational Outlook Handbook link.

Next week’s recycling industry series installment: Mechanics, Technicians, and Machinery Maintenance Workers

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