Skip to content

Breaking Down Recycling

Photo: Unsplash @rwlinder

After celebrating a new year, we’re still in the spirit to goal set, right? While some of our goals may be journaling, or working off that holiday weight, other goals may include learning how to become a better or more educated recycler.

And we’re here to help!

When learning about recycling, it’s good to start with the basics. We mean getting a handle on sorting, rinsing, and tossing items in the recycling bins that are available to you. But what happens next?

The second step to this journey entails understanding what happens at recycling facilities after you throw away your bottles so you know why sorting, rinsing, and selecting the right bin is so important. Then, you too can help people appreciate the importance of how what we do before we throw away our waste matters.

So, let’s get started.

After recycling is picked up, items will soon find their way to a recycling facility where sorting equipment such as an optical sorter is used to distinguish between different types of plastics. The plastic then goes through a series of processes where it is washed, shredded and sorted further!

But we need to dive a little deeper…

In mechanical recycling (the most common recycling process), we know the first stage of recycling involves the collection of sorted recycling from homes, businesses, and schools. However, not all of our recycling is sorted correctly at home. Because of this, the material may then be bulked at a waste transfer station before being transported to a normal Material Recovery Facility (MRF).

At the MRF, plastic is sorted further either by hand, trommels, or old corrugated cardboard along with other less popular methods where recyclables are mechanically placed onto conveyer belts. At this stage of recycling there is a constant flow of waste so once the material is sorted, it can be transferred to a plastic reprocessor.

Washing is of course a step that should never be missed. This helps to remove adhesives, residual waste, food waste, labels and any other residue that can affect the quality of the recyclate.

This is where our actions at home make a huge difference! When we do our part by simply rinsing our recyclables, we help ensure that the whole recycling system operates more effectively, because if we don’t, food residue can become hard to remove at this stage in the process.

While in the washing phase, plastic may go through a range of washing methods depending on the contamination and processors. Washers can include a friction washer, which are the most common form of washer due to their low operational cost and effectiveness, or a rotary washer - used to remove oils and food residue.

After washing, comes shredding or grinding plastic into smaller flakes. Plastic is shredded in different manners depending on the classification and methods of the shredder. Then more sorting may take place to produce a pure stream of material.

The final stage of plastic recycling is extrusion. Extrusion is the process of melting down the plastic, after which, the plastic is cut as it comes out of the extruder to form pellets which are sold to manufacturers to make new products for us to use.

And then...the recycling process begins again #recyclinginanutshell!

Leave a Comment