How Does Recycling Work?
Many of us are familiar with the idea of recycling. You sort your trash into sections including
items that will go to the landfill and items that can be recycled. Recycling is simply trash that can
be turned into new products. Lots of materials can be recycled including plastic, glass, metals,
paper, electronics, and textiles. Cans, milk cartons, newspapers, batteries, and
cardboard boxes are a few examples of items we can recycle when we’re done with
them. But what really happens to these items once we drop them in the recycling bin
and the garbage truck picks them up?
Recycling is the complex process of breaking down used materials so that they can be
made into new things. This process varies depending on the material. In this article we’ll
look at the recycling process for various items that we commonly recycle.
After the recycling is collected, it’s delivered to a special processing plant. Here, the
items will be sorted. Metal materials are sorted out using magnets while steel and
aluminum items are compressed into bales. These bales are then taken to a
reprocessing plant where they go through four stages: shredding, decoating, melting,
and casting. During the final stage the molten aluminum is cast into large ingots—big
blocks that are a suitable shape for further processing. The ingots are then transported
to a rolling mill and are rolled out into sheets of aluminum that can then used to create
new aluminum cans or other aluminum products.
After plastic bottles are collected and sorted from other materials, they are sorted again
by the type of plastic. Then, they’re cleaned to remove food and liquid residue. Next, the
bottles are shredded into flakes and then melted into pellets about the size of a grain of
rice. These pellets are bundled up and sold to companies who will melt them and make
them into lots of different plastic products.
Paper is taken to a recycling plant where it’s sorted by types and grades. It’s then
washed with soapy water to remove ink, plastic, staples, and glue. Next, it’s mixed with
water to create ‘slurry’. By adding different materials to the slurry, different paper
products can be made with it like cardboard or paper. The slurry is spread into thin
sheets using rollers and is left to dry. Once it’s dry it’s rolled up and ready to be cut and
used by companies.
Similar to the other materials, glass is collected and taken to a recycling plant where it’s
sorted. First, the glass is searched for contaminants—items that shouldn’t be in with
glass like paper or aluminum. Then, the non-brown glass is sorted out. Next, the glass
is broken with mechanical hammers. These particles then go through a revolving screen
that sorts them by size. The glass particles then go through a hot air drier that vibrates
to move them through. This process gets off any sugar, glue, or bacteria. The glass is
then sorted again by size ranging from powder to pebbles and each size can be used to
manufacture various glass products.