To most people, a recycling center is simply where their single-use plastic water bottles wind up — but to the eco nerds, zero wasters, and climate change activists among us, a recycling center is a magical place. I fall into all those categories so hard that my brother once got me a private tour of a recycling center for my birthday (and it was awesome).
If you (or the zero waster in your life) want to see where all the recycling magic happens, here are a few awesome recycling centers around the U.S. that you can visit — many of which also offer virtual tours.
PRo Kansas Recycling (Kansas)
PRo Kansas Recycling in Wichita, Kans. is more than just a recycling center — it’s also a nonprofit organization and education center. The facility features a classroom for school groups to come learn about recycling and the environment, a book nook where you can donate or take used books, and strictly-organized bins where locals can drop off their recyclables.
PRo Kansas Recycling is volunteer-run and all tours are donation-based, so make sure to leave a donation if you visit. PRo Kansas Recycling is open Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., offering volunteer-led tours upon request — just contact the center in advance. (If you couldn’t read my enthusiasm, PRo Kansas Recycling is the recycling center that I visited, and I highly recommend arranging a visit if you’re in the area.)
Sims Municipal Recycling (New York)
Sims Municipal Recycling handles most of New York City’s recycling. The 11-acre Brooklyn property is the country's largest recycling facility, and it has its very own Recycling Education Center. The center features a theater, interactive exhibits, lunch space, and an outdoor patio, and offers tours for both school groups (from second grade through college) and adults.
In-person tours are currently suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, so in the meantime, Sims Municipal Recycling is offering virtual tours.
Rumpke Waste & Recycling (Ohio)
Ohio-based Rumpke Waste & Recycling offers free tours of its recycling centers in both Cincinnati (Wednesdays) and Columbus (Tuesdays). Tours must be booked in advance, and you must be at least high school-aged to participate in the tour, due to the industrial setting.
Rumpke also offers free tours of its landfills in Colerain Township (Thursdays) and Brown County (all weekdays). For these tours, visitors remain on a bus that drives through the landfill. Rumpke’s tours are currently suspended due to the pandemic, but in the meantime, Rumpke has multiple free videos of its recycling facilities in action.
Green Living Science (Michigan)
The nonprofit Green Living Science offers field trips and tours, primarily geared toward students, of the Recycle Here! facility in Detroit, Mich. For a group of 25 students, the fee is $75, or $125 if your students want to explore the adjacent Lincoln Street Art Park. All students will participate in age appropriate STEAM activities to learn more about recycling, reducing their environmental impact at home, and conservation.
Tours are temporarily postponed at Recycle Here!, but you can reach out to Green Living Science to be notified when tours are back.
Solid Waste Authority of Palm Beach County (Florida)
The Solid Waste Authority (SWA) of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach, Fla. offers tours of its Integrated Solid Waste Management System, which give locals a look into where both their recycling and garbage wind up. The tours are offered to people 9 and older, by appointment only, Monday through Thursday. The tour features an interactive learning experience at the SWA’s LEED Platinum Education Center, a walk across a 500-foot Sky Bridge, a giant claw that picks up 9 tons of garbage at a time, a bus ride through Renewable Energy Park, two landfills, the Recovered Materials Processing Facility, and more.
In-person tours are currently suspended, but you can sign up for a virtual tour of SWA’s recycling facility.
York County Resource Recovery Center (Pennsylvania)
The York County Resource Recovery Center (RRC) in York, Pa. offers free tours for groups up to 60 people, ages 6 and older. Tours of the RRC feature a lesson in the Education Center and a walking tour of the waste-to-energy facility, and are offered Monday through Friday.
The center appears to still be open during the pandemic, as of February 2021 — just make sure to schedule your tour two weeks in advance. The RRC also has a video tour of its recycling facility available on YouTube.
Eagle County Materials Recovery & Household Hazardous Waste Facilities (Colorado)
The Walking Mountains Science Center’s Eagle County Materials Recovery & Household Hazardous Waste Facilities, based in Edwards, Colo., offers free tours to groups of all ages. You can reach out to the facility to be notified when in-person tours resume, but in the meantime, you can catch a free virtual tour via Zoom of the recycling center, landfill, and hazardous waste facility.
Northern California Recycling Association (California)
The Northern California Recycling Association (NCRA) offers tours of a slew of facilities, including the Berkeley Food Network Food Distribution Hub, Livermore Compost, and Renewal Mill. To schedule an in-person tour, contact the NCRA. Additionally, NCRA offers virtual tours of Recology San Francisco’s Transfer and Recycling Center and Recycle Central at Pier 96, which you can watch from home at any time.