Where Do Recycled Items Go?

Quck answer

Recycled items can go to various destinations depending on the type of material. Here is a brief overview of where some commonly recycled items go:

1. Paper: Recycled paper is often used to make new paper products like newspapers, cardboard, and packaging materials.

2. Plastic: Plastic bottles and containers can be transformed into new plastic products, such as bottles, bags, or even outdoor furniture.

3. Glass: Recycled glass is typically crushed and melted to make new glass items, like bottles or jars.

4. Aluminum: Aluminum cans are melted down and used to produce new cans, as well as other aluminum products like car parts or building materials.

5. Electronics: Electronics are often dismantled and sorted into different components for recycling. These components can be used to make new electronic devices or repurposed in other industries.

6. Organic waste: Organic waste, such as food scraps or yard trimmings, can be composted to create nutrient-rich soil for gardening and agriculture.

7. Clothing and textiles: Used clothing and textiles can be donated, resold, or repurposed into new garments or other textile products.

Remember, the recycling process can vary depending on local recycling facilities and regulations. It’s important to check with your local recycling guidelines to ensure proper disposal.

If your city allows you to dispose of all your recyclable materials in one bin, then your city uses a process called “single-stream recycling.” Single-stream recycling means there is no need to separate different materials like paper, plastic, and glass into separate bins.

Instead, all recyclable items can be thrown into the same bin. They are then collected by a truck and taken to a sorting center where the actual process begins.

The sorting process begins when the truck arrives at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). The process may differ from place to place, but every MRF has the same goal: to separate and recycle different materials so they can be transformed into new products.

Let’s take a tour of the Wonderopolis MRF:

Step 1: The recycling truck unloads the materials. The materials are carried along a conveyor belt to a v-screen separator. The v-screen separator separates newspaper, cardboard, and other paper items.

Heavier materials like plastic, metal, and glass fall through the separator to a conveyor belt below. The collected paper products are bundled for processing. Plastic, metal, and glass items continue their journey.

Step 2: Next, metals are recovered from the recyclables using a two-step process. First, large magnets attract ferrous metals, such as iron, tin, and steel.

The magnets remove ferrous metal products from the belt and place them in a bin for preparation at a metal mill. Can you think of some items made of iron, tin, or steel that might end up on the magnet during this phase of the metal recovery process (e.g., tin cans, tools, automobile parts, etc.)?

Step 3: Since aluminum products, like soda cans, are not magnetic, they continue along with the plastic and glass recyclables towards an eddy current rotor. Eddy currents create powerful energy fields around nonmagnetic materials.

Now it’s time for physics to come into play. The eddy current causes the aluminum items to separate from the other items on the belt and go into a collection bin.

Step 4: By now, paper, ferrous metals, and nonmagnetic metals have been sorted out. This leaves plastic and glass to continue along the belt. In the next step, an optical scanning system identifies plastic materials and pushes them off the belt into a bin using a blast of air.

Step 5: Having said goodbye to all the other types of recyclables, only glass remains on the belt. The heavier glass items reach the end of the belt and are collected in a bin. This step completes the recycling process.

Now that you know how the sorting process works, let’s follow paper, metal, plastic, and glass to find out what happens after the conveyor belt.


When paper arrives at the mill, it is loaded into a “de-inker.” This machine removes ink from paper fibers through a chemical washing process. After de-inking, the paper is mixed with water and solvents in a large blender called a “pulper.” The resulting product is known as pulp slurry.

The mixture of pulp is then transferred to a large washing machine that rotates it at a high speed, eliminating any unwanted particles like string or glue. After the washing process, the clean pulp is then moved to a press and wound onto massive rolls.

Unlike other recyclable materials, paper deteriorates with each recycling process, making it unsuitable for producing new paper every time. However, it can be utilized for making insulation materials for homes as well as toilet paper. Can you think of other products made from recycled paper that you have used? Some examples include picture frames, paper towels, and books.


After leaving the MRF, metals are sent to a metal mill. Through the use of extremely high temperatures (up to 2800° F or approximately 1538° C), the recycled metals transform into a molten liquid state. The molten metal is then poured into molds, solidifying into metal bars known as “ingots.” These ingots are subsequently transported to manufacturers who utilize them for creating various items ranging from aluminum cans to file cabinets, tin foil, and even bridges.


If you examine the bottom of most recyclable plastic items, you will notice a number. Each type of plastic is assigned a number from one to seven. Upon arrival at a reclaiming facility, the recyclable plastic needs to be sorted based on its assigned number. The most common plastic type is number one, which is used for making soda and water bottles.

Once sorted, the plastic is conveyed along a conveyor belt and fed into a grinder where it is chopped into small pieces resembling plastic flakes. These flakes are then fed into a furnace and melted down into a polymer. The polymer can subsequently be utilized for manufacturing new products such as lawn furniture, garbage cans, and carpets.


Recycled glass may arrive at the reclaiming facility in various sizes and shapes, but this is temporary. The initial step involves crushing all the glass into tiny pieces known as “cullet.”

The cullet can either be directly sent to manufacturers or placed in a furnace where it is heated and transformed into molten glass for repurposing into new products. Some examples of products made from recycled glass include glass doorknobs, floor tiles, garden ornaments, and even jewelry beads.

Try It Out:

Are you prepared to practice the principles of reduce, reuse, and recycle? Make sure to explore the following activities with a friend or family member:

Turn Paper Flowers into Real Flowers

Did you know that you can transform a paper flower into a genuine flower? It’s absolutely true! The enjoyable activity of Plantable Seeded Paper Flowers will show you how to bring a touch of spring into your home during the winter season by using recycled paper! These paper roses are not only beautiful but also environmentally friendly pieces of art that will last throughout the winter. And when spring arrives, you can plant these paper flowers in your garden and witness the seeds grow into real, blossoming flowers!

Start Recycling at Home

Do you currently recycle at home? If not, now is the perfect time to start! Begin by consulting with an adult to determine if your local waste collection service accepts recyclable items. If they do, set up a new bin at home specifically for collecting recyclables. If not, you will need to find out about nearby recycling facilities where you can drop off the recyclable items you collect. Keep track of the reduction in the amount of trash you produce by recycling items that can be repurposed!

Identify Recyclable Materials

Take a look around your house and identify the types of recyclable materials you have. Check your cupboards and refrigerator. Are you using plastic containers that can be recycled? Do you receive a daily newspaper? What about aluminum cans and other metal food cans? Are there any food items you regularly use that come in glass jars? Create a list of all the recyclable materials you use on a regular basis and share it with your family members. This will help everyone remember which items should be recycled rather than thrown in the trash!

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.washingtonian.com/2012/06/15/sorting-it-all-out/
  • http://science.howstuffworks.com/environmental/conservation/issues/recycling-reality.htm

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