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The Secret Life of Trash

Bonk! You've tossed your soda can into a recycling bin and asked yourself: What landfill will that end up in? This futile feeling is what motivated us to follow the contents of a blue bin.

Photographs by Mathieu Young
The cardboard, plastic, glass, and aluminum went to the Los Angeles Express Materials Recovery Facility, operated in South L.A. by Waste Management Recycle America. Workers—some wearing cut-resistant gloves—look for bodies (occasionally the homeless die in rubbish bins, where they seek food and refuge), weapons, and other hazards as the trash is placed on conveyor belts and sorted. Turns out the soda can doesn't end up in a dump after all: It goes to processing plants that turn it into raw material for, most likely, a new can—a dull but worthy rebirth.

Also watch Recycling Revolution