According to DEFRA* figures, the amount of waste now being recycled in the UK is growing, while the amount being sent to landfill sites is reducing. This is all great news and keeps us on track to meet EU targets on waste, but do we know what happens to each material after the waste trucks have taken our recyclables away, what is the recycling process?
Once we’ve sorted what we can and can’t recycle and rinsed it, flattened it and binned it, what happens next? Here’s a look at how our old glass, plastic, aluminium and paper products are recycled.
Due to glass being made of sand, soda ash and limestone, is one of the easiest materials to recycle; humans have been using and reusing glass for thousands of years. As long as 3,000 years ago Egyptians made jewellery, cups and other items from new and recycled glass.
Here’s how we do it in modern times:
The glass is brought to the recycling centre
The glass is sorted by colour at the centre
The glass is then transported to a processing facility where it is cleaned and crushed into what is called cullet
The cullet is brought to a manufacturing plant and mixed with more of its components – sand, soda ash and limestone
The mixture is heated in a furnace and turned into a liquid
The liquid is then poured into moulds and shaped into new products
Unlike glass, which is composed entirely of natural substances, plastic is made of man-made and raw materials, including petroleum and crude oil. Here’s how plastic is recycled:
The used plastic arrives at the recycling centre
The plastic is delivered to a specialist recycling plant where it is washed and thoroughly inspected
The recyclable plastic is washed again, then chopped into tiny flakes
Using a floatation tank, the flakes are separated
The plastic flakes are dried and then melted into a liquid
For even more cleaning, the liquid is fed through a screen and it comes out in long strands
The strands are cooled and cut into pellets
The pellets then make their way to manufacturers who use them to make new products
Aluminium can be recycled quicker and easier than most other materials. In fact, that drinks can you recycled today could be back on a shelf in about two months! Making an aluminium can from recycled aluminium actually uses 96% less energy than it does making one for the first time. Here’s how it’s done:
You bring your aluminium cans to a recycling centre
They are moved to a recycling plant, then they’re shredded and melted at an extremely high temperature
The melted aluminium is now cooled and formed into large block called an ingot
The ingot is made into sheets and used distributed to manufacturers to make new products
Due to paper being made of tiny fibres that become weaker over time, paper cannot be recycled forever unlike our other featured materials.
Although most types of paper can be recycled, those with a glossy or waxy coating are often far too expensive to recycle.
When you recycle paper, you should try to separate newsprint, white paper and cardboard.
Here’s a look at the recycling process for paper:
The paper reaches at the recycling centre
It is thoroughly sorted and transported to a pulping facility
At this facility, the paper is soaked and heated in huge vats, becoming pulp. Chemicals in the liquid separate the ink from the paper
The pulp is screened and cleaned to remove glue, other debris and any remaining ink
The pulp is refined and beaten to make it ready to become paper again
The pulp is fed into a machine that spits out the pulp onto a flat moving screen where it forms sheets
The sheets are rolled and dried and ready for their new life
Recycling is one of the best ways for you to have a positive impact on the world we live in. Recycling is important to both the natural environment and us. As the amount of waste produced by a growing population increases, it is important to recycle all we can to reduce the amount being sent to landfill.
But what can you do to help? Refuse packaging, reduce consumption, educate yourself about what you can and cannot recycle within your own area.
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