What happens when you recycle?

What happens when a bottle enters the recycling stream? A long chain of events occurs, leading to the material’s repurposing into new products. From your recycling bin, your materials gets taken to a recycling plant, where it gets sorted for usability, after which it is recovered or discarded. Only 50% of what goes into your recycling bin will get recycled (although this is often due to user error, i.e. not cleaning out the recyclables properly or recycling something that should be thrown out).


The recycling then often gets bought by private-sector companies, where it is taken to a facility that sorts it into categories (glass, metal, high-density polyethylene (HDPE), and polyethylene terephthalate (PET)). The process takes around 30 minutes. The PET, or your average plastic bottle, is the easiest to resell, since it can be reused over and over again (with a lifespan of about 500 years). From there, your recycled products can become anything from a carpet to a bicycle to a tissue!


Unfortunately, the United States only recycles about 34% of its viable materials. The rest goes to landfills, so we are filling the earth with valuable products. Keep this in mind the next time you’re about to chuck a recyclable item in the trash; a small act goes a long way.

Written by: Teddi Shapiro, class of 2019

Photo thanks to Pixabay

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