The Recycling Process: What Happens After You Sort Your Trash?

What actually happens when you recycle? The process is actually much more involved that you may initially think, as shown in this new visual guide from the team at OBerk. When it comes to recycling, there are two common recycling processes. The first is single-stream recycling, and the second is dual-stream recycling. In the United States, the most common is single-stream recycling, which is what this infographic bases its process on. Here’s the process of what actually happens when you recycle.

On this infographic, you’ll learn all about the processes of what happens as certain materials go through the recycling processes, including paper, steel, glass, aluminum, and plastic. Plastic is perhaps the most interesting, because not only are there so many different types of plastics out there, but the recycling process for plastic is also the most complex. When the process starts, infrared sensors identify the types of plastics, all based on the spectrum of the light that they reflect. Each type of plastic actually reflects light differently. Plastic is actually sorted into seven different types.

There are so many different kinds of plastics. The most frequently used would be Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE), which is actually most commonly used in food and beverage containers. It’s also the most common type of plastic to recycle, and the easiest to recycle as well. In fact, Polyethylene Terephthalate is typically recycled into things like new plastic bottles, carpeting, winter coats, and fiberfill for sleeping bags. Other types of plastics that you can recycle include high-density polyethylene (HDPE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), low-density polyethylene (LDPE), polypropylene (PP), polystyrene (PS), and more. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is another interesting type of plastic that is most often used for shower curtains, pipes, and vinyl floors. While it has great uses, it can often be difficult to recycle and gets toxic when heated.

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