We all understand the advantages of recycling and why it is necessary to keep recyclable items out of the landfill, but did you ever wonder what exactly happens to the things in your blue bin once you’ve set it out to the curb?
There are thousands of products for sale every day containing recycled materials and many of them in your own home. Here is a rundown of the process and how recycling used materials can be remade into new things.
The Recycling Process
Most municipalities such as Toronto, have a system called single stream recycling. Single stream recycling means that you can put all of your recyclable materials into the same bin, and you don’t have to separate them into different containers. The items are collected from your recycling bins, loaded into a truck and taken to a recycling facility.
At the recycling facility, the recyclable materials are sorted and separated into different piles. This sorting is handled by a machine designed to recognize different types of materials. The items are gathered into collections of the same material to be made or remade into different products.
The process starts by separating paper from the rest of the material. Paper items such as newspaper, office paper, cardboard and other paper items are divided into one pile—heavier items like glass, plastic and metal drop-down to a lower conveyor belt and travel onwards.
Certain metals such as iron, tin and steel are gathered with a giant magnet, removed from the recycling and placed in a large bin. Metals such as aluminum are not magnetic, and they are separated into another container.
Optical scanners can pick out recyclable plastics and remove them. Fun fact: Toronto’s recycling scanners cannot process black plastics. So these items are not recyclable. Glass being the heaviest material, is the last to be removed and travels into a bin for processing.
Once the recyclable materials have been sorted into their different types, they are individually recycled or remade into new products. Here are some of the ways:
Recycled paper is separated by type (newsprint, magazines, cardboard, etc.) and transported to a paper mill for processing. At the paper mill, the paper is shredded. Next, it is loaded into a machine that removes the ink through a chemical process.
Recycled magazines are essential in the recycling process as their high clay content helps to remove inks from the paper before it is made into new paper products. The ‘de-inked’ paper is then mixed up with water into a slurry. This material is called pulp slurry.
This pulp slurry is placed into a washing machine that removes all the impurities such as glue or string that might be mixed up in the paper. The resulting paper is pressed into new rolls. Recycled office paper can become:
- New paper
- Toilet paper
- Facial tissues
- Computer paper
Newspaper can turn into:
- Paper plates
- Other newspaper
Paper that is too old to be made into new paper can become other products such as:
- building insulation
- Berry boxes
- Kitty litter
- Egg cartons
Corrugated cardboard can be remade into:
- Paper bags
- New cardboard
- Paper board (for cereal and other food boxes)
Metal – Steel
Metals such as steel, iron and tin are very useful materials. Steel has the highest rate of recycling of any material and can be recycled indefinitely with no degradation. Over 88 percent of steel is recycled into new products.
Recycled steel is also used in the production of new steel with ⅔ of it made from recycled steel. Tin cans are steel cans with a thin coating of tin on the outside.
After leaving the recycling centre, the metals are melted down at a metal mill at extremely high heat (1538 Celsius). This temperature causes the metal to liquefy into a molten metal, which can be cast into moulds and made into metal ingots. These metal ingots are sold to manufacturers where they can be remade into almost anything, such as:
- Car parts
- Bicycle frames
- New ‘tin’ cans
Aluminum is another product that can be recycled indefinitely without any reduction in the quality of the materials. There is a high demand for aluminum, so most cans that you throw into the recycling are turned into new products in a matter of weeks.
The separated aluminum is taken to a processing plant, and the cans are shredded. These pieces are melted into sheets and made into new cans and aluminum foil. Aluminum is also made into car parts, airplane parts and into the bodies of tractor-trailer trucks.
Using recycled aluminum to make new cans saves 95% of the energy it would take to mine the resources and produce the cans from ore.
Glass is another material that can be reused and recycled indefinitely to make new glass products. It is far more energy-efficient and easier to make glass products from recycled glass than it is from raw materials.
The glass arrives at the reclaiming facility in all kinds of different colours, shapes and sizes. All of these are crushed down into tiny pieces called cullet or melted down to be formed into new containers. Cullet has smooth edges and can be used in making bricks, or for use in paving surfaces.
Plastic can be a little more complicated to recycle than other materials. This complexity is because different plastics are made from different types of resin. Take a look at the bottom of a plastic container, and you will see a number. This number tells you what kind of plastic makes up the container. The different types of plastic cannot be mixed.
The plastic is sorted by type, and then each type is sent off to a processing facility. At the processing facility, the plastic is fed into a grinder and chopped into plastic flakes. These flakes are melted down into a polymer that can be used by manufacturers to make new plastic products.
The most common form of plastic is #1, and it is found in pop and water bottles. These types of plastic can be remade into:
- Polar fleece
- Sleeping bag and jacket insulation
- More water and pop bottles.
Did you know: it takes about ten bottles to make enough fibre for a new t-shirt or 63 bottles to make a fleece sweater?
This type of plastic includes laundry detergent bottles, juice and milk jugs. The plastic is lightweight and sturdy and made from a different material than pop bottles. Once sorted, ground up and processed into pellets these kinds of plastic can become:
- Plastic buckets
- Plastic lumber
- Outdoor play equipment
- New juice and milk jugs
Bottle caps that go on your water or pop bottle can also be recycled into many useful products such as:
- Car batteries
- Garden rakes
- Storage containers
- Reusable shopping bags
- New bottle caps
While it may look far from environmentally friendly, foam packaging is mostly made of air and can be recycled. It can be remade into insulation, building products for home renovations and new styrofoam packaging.
If you need information and tips for recycling used materials or equipment to help handle recycling materials, BaleForce Recycling Equipment is a full-service distributor for top-of-the-line recycling equipment in Canada. We have offices in Toronto and would be happy to help with your recycling needs. Take a look at our equipment list, or contact us at 1 (855) 235-1900 to ask about our affordable equipment today.