There are many benefits to recycling plastic, glass and aluminum. First, recycling reduces the stress on landfill space. In addition to saving landfill space, recycling also saves resources and energy. In fact, the energy saved by manufacturing with recycled materials in 2005 was equal to the amount used to power 9 million homes according to Recycling Revolution. No matter what you recycle, there are typically five steps in the process.
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The first step in the process is to collect recyclable materials. Many communities offer curbside pickup of recyclables including glass, aluminum, paper and plastics. In some instances, these products must be separated; however, many haulers now accept mixed materials. Most communities that do not offer pick up provide drop-off centers.
Acceptable glass products are bottles and jars. Window panes, mirrors and light bulbs are typically not accepted for recycling. Most recycling centers and haulers will accept plastics stamped 1 and 2, which are polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics.
Once collected, recyclable materials are transported to a material recovery facility (MRF), which is designed to separate recyclable materials by type. Glass is typically sorted by color and plastics by type. Aluminum cans are separated from their steel or bi-metallic counterparts. In large metropolitan areas, these facilities are designed to process over 1,000 tons of material daily. From the MRF, sorted recyclable materials are sent to various reclaimers to be converted into usable resources.
Plastics are fed into grinders to be flaked and cleaned. Depending on the type, flakes can be either transported directly to manufacturers or melted into their individual polymers and re-formed into pellets. When glass arrives at the reclaimer, it is crushed into small pieces known as cullet. Like plastic, the cullet may be shipped directly to manufactures to be blended with virgin material, or placed in a furnace and melted. Molten glass may be converted directly into new glass containers. Aluminum cans are smelted at temperatures as high as 2,800 degrees Fahrenheit. The molten liquid is recast into ingots and shipped to manufacturers.
Manufacturers of plastic, glass and aluminum products take the reprocessed materials from the reclaimer and use them as they would virgin materials. In some instances, the recycled resources are mixed with virgin content before being reshaped into a new product.
Both glass and aluminum are typically made into their original products – either bottles or cans, and both can be recycled endlessly. Because of the complexity and variety of polymers used in plastic products, however, plastic is often recycled into different products. For example, a recycled detergent bottle might become plastic lumber. Beverage containers, like soda bottles, are made with PET plastic and are the most widely recycled type. Recycled PET can be remanufactured into beverage containers again, which makes it a valuable recyclable resource.
The final step in the recycling process depends on you. It’s important to buy products made from recycled materials in order to close the loop. Maintaining demand for recycled materials keeps the process moving and provides all the benefits of recycling. Be certain the products you buy contain post-consumer waste. The percentage of post-consumer waste is printed on the label.