DULUTH - Bill Heenan looked at the giant machine and saw steel that will be used to make car fenders, bridge trusses and metal cans.
Others looked at the noisy two-story contraption and saw glass that will become wine bottles and pickle jars. Some saw plastics that will become carpet backing or aluminum that will become soft drink cans.
Like Heenan, many were from national industries that buy recycled materials and use them to make new products.
The focus of their attention was equipment unveiled Wednesday by Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful - a $250,000 machine that was being fed a river of recyclables, from pizza boxes and milk jugs to magazines and beer cans.
From the jumbled mess it noisily spit out neatly separated piles of recyclables - a process that before was done solely by county inmates at the recycling center at 4300 Satellite Blvd.
"When I look at that, I see something that is replacing an open-pit ore mine," said Heenan, a Pittsburgh resident with the Steel Recycling Institute. "You're mining the recyclables instead of mining ore."
The machinery that roared to life for the first time Monday and was put into service Wednesday will encourage recycling in Gwinnett County because residents will no longer have to separate their recyclables, Heenan and others said.
"It makes it easier for consumers, and any time you make it easier you have more participation," said Barry Caldwell, senior vice president of government affairs for Houston-based garbage hauler and landfill operator Waste Management.
Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful Executive Director Connie Wiggins said she is only aware of one other mechanized sorting system in Georgia, and that one belongs to a private enterprise in Forest Park.
Residents with curbside garbage pickup can also leave more materials by the road thanks to the new equipment. Previously only newspapers, aluminum cans, food cans, milk jugs, detergent bottles and glass bottles and jars could be left.
Office paper, junk mail, magazines, computer paper and catalogs now join the list.
Wiggins said the machine will let the nonprofit process double the 12,000 tons of recyclables it now handles annually.
An extension of Gwinnett County government, Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful works to curb litter and graffiti, and it encourages recycling and oversees trash haulers in the unincorporated county.
It is a local affiliate of Keep America Clean & Beautiful, whose board of directors met in Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The board, including Heenan and Caldwell, were in Gwinnett on Wednesday morning to tour the recycling center.
"It's well organized," said Caldwell, of Houston.