The Life Process of Our Recycled Waste
We’re all probably pretty well informed about how important recycling is. It’s up at the top of the waste hierarchy, along with reuse, as a means of helping to reduce the waste we put into the ground, help preserve our resources and not waste excess resources and energy. Any new forms of waste disposal the government might look at implementing have to come in below recycling and reuse on the waste hierarchy and it’s important to ensure the impetus is still there to do so. So we separate our waste and put what can be recycled out with our rubbish for collection or drop it off at recycling banks.
But for the majority of us, the thought that goes into our recycling stops when we deposit our old food containers and glass bottles. So you might not know how complicated the recycling process actually is. It involves a number of steps to ensure all our old waste is reused as much as possible before, eventually, it becomes more energy efficient to dispose of it than it is to try to turn it into something else. If you want to know the process your old waste takes between your recycling bin and the can you’ll drink out of later, read on.
The exact path your recycling takes will depend on where you live, what systems are in place for recycling and the materials you get rid of. But for most people, recycling waste will take one of four forms. First, it can mean separating it and putting it into bins outside your house, where it will then be picked up. If this facility isn’t available, you can drop it off at a recycling bank. Alternatively, any materials you might have, like scrap metal or wood, can be sold at a buy-back centre. Finally, depending on where you live, you might be able to make use of a refund/deposit program, whereby recyclable materials, such as old cans, can be returned to vendors in return for a small price—something that is relatively common at festivals and other similar gatherings. However it is done in your area, the waste will then be taken to a facility where they will be sorted through properly and separated. From here, the journey the waste will take depends on the type of material.
When it comes to recycling glass, there are two main options available: reuse it in its current state or recycle it and turn it into something new. Obviously the first option is the most energy efficient, which is why the average milk bottle gets used around 13 times before it’s recycled. If this is the case, it will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected before it can be shipped off to be resold. If not though, the glass needs to be sorted by colour before it is then ground down. After this, it can be melted and then reformed into another glass product.
Plastic goes down a similar route: it is first separated according to colour, then it’s melted down before it is reformed into the new product.
The process for paper is a bit different. Paper is one of the most recycled materials in the UK, with the average family throwing away six trees worth of it each year. When it comes to recycling, it needs to be sorted according to a number of factors, including the type of paper, what it’s used for, whether or not it has been recycled in the past, its weight and colour. It is then reduced to a pulp, where any dyes, chemicals or staples can be removed. The pulp can then be ironed into sheets of paper before it is cut into the shapes and sizes required.
The process involved for recycling metal depends on the type that is being recycled. Steel from old cars, for example, is melted down and then reformed as coils of metal or in sheets that can then be sent off to manufacturers to be reformed into the products required. But when it comes to household waste and aluminium, it’s a similar process to glass. The old cans are also melted down, which removes any coatings or paint that might have been on them. This leaves a molten aluminium which is then turned into ingots. A single ingot can contain the metal of up to 1.6 million drink cans. The ingots are then transported to mills where they are rolled out into sheets. This improves their ductility that can be lost in the process. After this, the sheets of metal will be ready to be turned into other products.
Despite the differing processes that each type of material has to go through though, there are some steps that remain the same for each of them. For starters, all the materials need to be moved from location to location, which requires what can amount to masses of material to be safely held together. This is important for a couple of reasons: first of all, it means that the materials will all be completely contained, which makes them easier to handle and transport. It also allows for large amounts of recycled waste to be compressed into smaller bundles, which also helps make the process more efficient. So at some point, the different goods will be put through a baling press, where they will be compressed into bales, which are then held together with baling wire. This wire is incredibly strong and ductile, so can easily secure even the aluminium ingots together before they are reshaped, without the risk of breaking. Without baling wire, the recycling process wouldn’t be able to run nearly as efficiently as it does.
Finally, when the different materials have been reformed, they can then be resold. This might mean they become something entirely different from what they originally were or they could be a variation on the same product. It entirely depends. Either way, they are then ready to be sold on. This will usually either be to manufacturers who can use the recycled materials to create something else, or to companies, who can buy reformed products, such as cans or containers, for their products. The same products you then buy from the shop before starting the process all over again.
So even though you might think that the life process of your recycled waste is quite a simple one, the process your waste takes from door to door is in fact anything but.