What Happens To My Recycling?
What Happens to Your Recycled Trash?
Did you ever wonder what happens to the stuff you put out on your curb for recycling? It may surprise you the very long journey most recycled items take and the transformation they go through. All sorts of items can be turned into other useable items once they are recycled. At its core, the term “recycle” means to remake something into another useful product. The reason recycling is so good is that it reduces the number of items going into landfills, keeps harmful plastics out of the waterways, and promotes a greener environment for us all. Here’s the journey your recycled trash takes on a weekly basis.
Collecting Recycled Items and Bringing Them to the Recycling Plant
The first step is to get your bottles, cans, paper, yard clippings, and other items to a recycling plant. (What items you can recycle depends on what your town or city allows.) A truck comes and picks up your stuff and drops it, along with many other items, at a special building that does recycling.
Depending on where you are, the plant may handle mountains of recycling. A very large plant in Brooklyn, New York, collects 800 tons of recycling every day!
Sorting Recycled Items at the Plant
After the trucks drop off your items at the plant, they get put onto a conveyor belt. At some plants, workers sort the materials by hand. They separate out different colored papers and remove items that people put in their bins that can’t be recycled.
At the large plant in Brooklyn, the process is mostly automated. This plant has 2.5 miles of conveyor belts, high-tech machinery, cameras, and magnets that pull out different types of materials. At this plant, there are 14 different types of items, including different types of plastics.
Processing the Recycled Items
After your items are sorted, they get crushed into big blocks called “bales.” These can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. The bales are sold to companies that clean and process the recycled materials to make new things.
It’s a Big Cycle
As we’ve seen, recycling is a step-by-step process. Say you finish drinking a bottle of water, and you put the plastic bottle in the bin. You take the bin to the curb, a truck picks it up, and it gets sorted on the assembly line at the plant. It gets collected along with hundreds of pounds of other similar plastics, compressed, and sent to a manufacturer who will clean it up and use it to make new bottles or some other product.
Maybe someday, you could be drinking from a bottle that contains plastic recycled from one of the bottles you put in the bin!
Why Use Recycled Materials?
It takes a lot more energy to use new materials than it does to use recycled ones. When a company uses a ton of recycled plastic, it saves 16 barrels of oil.
And that’s just plastic. Think of all the energy it must take to get aluminum out of the Earth to make cans for soda. When a company uses recycled aluminum instead, it can make 20 aluminum soda cans using the same amount of energy it would need to make just one can from newly mined aluminum.
How You Can Help
About 75% of the things that we throw away could be recycled. Remember to put recyclable items in the recycling bin, not in the trash. It does not take a lot of time to do.
At the same time, don’t throw regular garbage in the recycling bin. A lot of people do this, and it makes extra work for the people at the recycling plant. They must pick out all the non-recycling items before the recyclables get compressed into bins and sold to manufacturers. You can make their job easier by putting garbage, such as food, in the trash and not in the recycle bin.