What Happens to the Items I Recycle?
You recycle because you know it’s the right thing to do. You know recycling benefits your community and the environment. But each time you recycle a can, a bottle, or a newspaper, you wonder what happens to it. Was recycling worth it?
Here, we’ll go over some of the most common recyclable materials and their journey beyond the recycling bin.
Two types of metal-aluminum and steel-are recycled and reused every day. You’ve probably recycled aluminum cans many times. When you do, these cans go to a smelter, where employees grind the aluminum into small chips, melt it, and send it to a manufacturing plant. At the plant, workers roll new sheets of aluminum. Out of these sheets, they create new aluminum products. These products include:
- Car bodies
- Aluminum foil
Now, how about steel? You might not know that tin cans are actually made of steel and coated in tin. When you recycle a tin can, manufacturers flatten it and remove the tin coating. They sell the steel to a steel mill, where manufacturers create other steel products. These products could include appliances, steel beams, and car parts.
What about the tin coating? Well, people can reuse that, too, particularly in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries.
You may wonder how your glass products are reused, especially if they have chips or cracks. Fortunately, a broken bottle is not a problem. Manufacturers crush recycled glass into small pieces. People use crushed glass as part of the following:
- Sports turf
- Paved surfaces
They can also create new glass containers and even stained glass.
There are many different types of plastics, and even more potential applications. Recycling workers must separate all your plastic products based on type. They then shred them into flakes and melt them into pellets to sell to companies. Here’s how people reuse different types of plastics:
- High-density polyethylene: car parts, toys, flower pots
- PET: carpet backing, backpacks, sleeping bag insulation
- Mixed plastics: plastic lumber, pallets
It’s exciting to think about what your plastic products might become. A milk jug could become a chair, or a detergent bottle could become a Frisbee.
As with plastic, manufacturers sort paper by type. At a paper mill, manufacturers follow these steps:
- They use a chemical wash to separate the ink from the paper.
- They mix the paper with water to create a pulp.
- They remove contaminants and bleach the paper mixture.
- They use machines to remove water from the mixture.
- They place the mixture into rollers that dry and flatten it.
Through this process, manufacturers can produce new paper (or other items such as toilet paper).
When you recycle shoe boxes, cereal boxes, or other cardboard items, they could return as boxes or paper bags.
When a paper mill receives your cardboard, manufacturers create a pulp, just like they do with other kinds of paper. They add wood chip pulp to strengthen it. They then roll and dry it to create two kinds of cardboard: the inner layer (called the medium) and the outer layers (called the linerboard). Finally, they send both types of cardboard to a box-board plant, where manufacturers form it into new cardboard.
The next time you’re about to throw away that milk jug or that cereal box, place them in the recycling bin instead. Your recycled items actually do make a difference. They go through a comprehensive process to become new items. If you don’t have a recycling service in your area, talk to your landlord or manager about adding one. In the meantime, you can take your recyclables to a recycling center.