21 May, 2024
Written By: Josh Morris
Busy Bins. What is Your Waste Recycled Into. Illustration showing aluminium cans being recycled into an airplane. The cans are melted in a furnace and processed into new material with the symbol for aluminium recycling (ALU) shown.

Have you ever wondered what happens to your waste after its been collected?

From the moment you sling your food waste, paper and card and other recycling into your bins, it takes on a journey of transformation like no other.

When we recycle in our homes or businesses, we are not just helping our own properties, but, we are also conserving natural resources that would be needed to manufacture new items and reducing the amount of rubbish that ends up wasting away on a landfill! 

You may not see it, however every item that you recycle will be collected, sorted and processed into new materials for us to re-use. This is the wonder of recycling. 

In this blog, you can find the ins and outs of each items recycling journey. From the pulping of paper and cardboard to how glass is crushed, melted and remoulded. Come and join us as we explore the secrets of what happens to our waste and uncover the opportunities in transforming trash into treasure.

The Journey of Recycled Materials

Paper and Cardboard

Recycling Process: Recycling paper & cardboard takes a number of processes to create new products. After it has been collected of course, there are various stages that it will go through, these are: 

  1. Sorting: Automated and Manual sorting will be used to sift through the paper and cardboard and organise by size, weight, and to remove contaminants. 
  2. Shredding and Pulping: Once everything is in order the paper and cardboard will be shredded into small pieces and mixed with water to form a pulp. The pulp is then heated up and treated with some chemicals, the finished product is called a Slurry, Not the best Mcslurry we have seen. 
  3. Filtering and Deinking: The slurry gets sent through screens and filters to remove any remaining contaminants. Think of a Brita filter but industrial scale...once filtered, it will be Deinked (We assure you this is a real word not a new type of lingo for the kids). The deinking process involves using air bubbles and chemicals to separate ink from the big pulpy slurry. 
  4. Forming and Drying: Now the pulp has been cleaned and spruced up, time to get forming...the paper is moulded into rolls or sheets using specialised equipment. Once formed, the sheets are pressed and dried to remove excess moisture. 
  5. Finishing: The paper is dry, now it needs to be cut and trimmed like a trip to the Barbers. The finished product will then be sent to manufacturers to create recycled products.

End Products: You know the process, now let's see what your kerbside paper & cardboard can be recycled into...

  • Office paper / Tissue Paper/ Newspaper and Magazines / New Paper...all the types of Paper products.
  • Toilet Roll
  • Packaging Materials (cardboard boxes, egg cartons, bags)
  • Corrugated Cardboard Boxes
  • Fibreboard which is used in furniture, cabinets, and construction
  • Printing and Labelling Paper
  • Biomass Energy
  • Compost


Types of Plastics: When it comes to plastics, they may all look the same but each plastic can be different (We are not a plastic racist we promise). Plastics are identified by there Resin Identification Codes or RIC, this makes them easier to identify at a recycling centre.

Here are the different types of plastics: 

  • Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET or PETE) - Used for beverage bottles (Fizzy & Juice) and food containers. 
  • High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) - Milk Jugs, Shampoo & Detergent Bottles & Plastic Bags.  
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) - Used for pipes, window frames, flooring, and medical tubing.
  • Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) - Shrink wraps, squeeze bottles, and food packaging films.
  • Polypropylene (PP) - Yoghurt containers, bottle caps and straws (If McDonalds ever let us have them back)
  • Polystyrene (PS) - Used for disposable cups, food containers, and plastic cutlery.
  • Other Plastics - Eyeglass lenses fall into this category due to the way they are produced. 

Recycling Process: The starting stages are similar for each material in this blog. The first stages are always collection, sorting and then cleaning of the product. After these initial stages the plastic is then: 

  1. Shredding: Clean plastic materials are shredded into small flakes...picture corn flakes but these flakes you wouldn't want in a bowl with some milk. 
  2. Melting and Pelletising: The plastic flakes are melted and formed into small pellets. These small pellets are easier to transport. 
  3. Reprocessing: The plastic pellets are then reprocessed ready to be used and remoulded into recyclable material. They can be melted, moulded, or extruded into various shapes and forms, depending on the desired end product.
  4. Manufacturing: The magic starts to happen, the small, tiny pellets are shipped to manufacturers from the recycling facility, ready to be recycled into new products.

End Products: Plastic recycling can be turned into new products, such as:

  1. Packaging Materials.
  2. Shipping envelopes.
  3. Drainage Pipes.
  4. Roofing Tiles.
  5. New plastic bottle.
  6. Recycled Plastics Lumber.
  7. Fibres for clothing or carpets.
  8. Kitchenware and utensils.
  9. Storage containers and bins.
  10. Recycling bins (the ultimate inception of your plastic, the plastic you throw into the bin actually becomes the bin, Di Caprio eat your heart out) 
  11. Automotive Parts: Car Bumpers, Interior Compartments & Engine Covers.
  12. Electronics and Appliances: Computer Parts, Cable and Wire Insulation
  13. Garden and Outdoor Products: Plant Pots & Garden Furniture.


Recycling Process: Again, the glass will be collected, sorted and cleaned to get rid of any contaminants, from there it will go to: 

  1. Crushing and Grinding: Cleaned glass materials are crushed and grounded into small pieces using a crusher or pulveriser (Sues pet name for me)
  2. Melting: Crushed glass is melted to between 1,400 to 1,600 degrees Celsius (Hot,Hot,Hot). This is so it is easier to mould.
  3. Forming: The molten glass is thrown into a massive mould to create the shape for glass bottles, jars etc. For windows, it would be poured into a flat mould. 
  4. Annealing: We don't mean the glass is bent down on the floor, it just means that the glass is slowly cooled in a more controlled environment.
  5. Finishing and Packaging: Once it has cooled down, the glass will be polished, cut and finished ready to be packaged.

End Products

  • Glass bottles and jars for beverages, food products, and cosmetics
  • Fibreglass insulation for buildings, homes and transport. 
  • Recycled glass tiles for walls, floors, and countertops.
  • Glass beads for reflective road markings and traffic signs
  • Glass pebbles and stones for ornamental features in gardens and landscapes.
  • New glass windows.

Metals (Aluminium and Steel)

Recycling Process:

The beginning stages of the metal recycling process, are similar to the rest, where the recycling is sorted and separated.

To sort the metals, a massive magnet is used to separate certain metals and other ferrous metals made from steel. From there, it will be processed and organised by: size, paints, and other coatings. Then the rest of the process can begin:

  1. Melting: The melting begins again, the metal is melted at degrees between 1000 and 3000 degrees...this creates a molten liquid.
  2. Refining: Sometimes, the melted metal can undergo refining to improve its quality. Electrolysis will be used for this. 
  3. Fabrication: Now it has been melted, the metal waste and recycling is ready to be used to make new products. 
  4. Distribution: The finished metal products are distributed to manufacturers to be made into new metal based items. 

End Products:

  • Construction Materials: Beams, pipes, and other structural components for building projects.
  • Car Parts: Car bodies, engine parts, and other components in vehicles can be made from recycled metal.
  • Household Goods: Cookware, utensils, and appliances like refrigerators and washing machines often contain recycled metal.
  • Aluminium Cans and other new cans used for food and beverages.
  • Machinery and Equipment: Industrial machinery, tools, and equipment used in manufacturing processes can be made with recycled metal.
  • Electronics: Some electronic devices and appliances, such as computers and smartphones, contain recycled metal components.
  • Furniture: Metal furniture, such as chairs, tables, and shelving units, can be made from recycled metal.
  • Outdoor Structures: Fences, gates, and garden furniture made from metal often incorporate recycled materials.

Electronics (E-Waste)

Recycling Process: Electronics, E-Waste or WEEE (Waste electrical and electronic equipment) there are plenty of names for your electronics, and no doubt a constant flow of old phones hanging out in your household drawer, but, how are they recycled? 

It has been collected and sorted into the various different types of electricals...what happens next?

  1. Dismantling: All those old phones, TVs, iPads have to be taken apart, dismantled and separated into different types of internal components. This could be removing screws, bolts 
  2. Recovery: These components are then sorted, and separated into different recyclable materials such as: Glass, Metals, Plastics and Circuit boards. 
  3. Material Processing: Different components need a different recycling management techniques. For example Gold & Copper will be melted down while plastics will be shredded. 
  4. Hazardous Waste: The really valuable and dangerous components need taking out. Lead and Mercury are carefully extracted and disposed of all while making sure to follow very strict regulations. 
  5. Recycling and Refurbishment: The processed materials are finally then sent to recycling facilities or manufacturers to be reused in new products or refurbished for resale. 

End Products:

  • New Electronic Devices: Key components such as memory chips, display panels and circuit board recovered from recycled electronics can be used to create new phones, TVs, computers, tablets and other electronics. 
  • Industrial Equipment: Recycled electronics may provide components and parts needed for industrial machinery, automation systems, and manufacturing equipment. 
  • Renewable Energy Systems: Some electronic components recovered from recycled electronics can be utilised in renewable energy systems, such as solar panels, wind turbines and battery storage systems. These components help capture, store, and convert renewable energy for use in residential and commercial applications.
  • Medical Devices: Certain electronic components and sensors obtained from recycled electronics can be repurposed for use in medical devices and equipment. This can support healthcare providers and improve patient care.
  • Communication Infrastructure: Any form of antennas or receivers can be important for reuse in the communication industry. These components are essential for telecommunications systems, internet connectivity, and wireless technology infrastructure.
  • Creative Projects: Artists who want to get their creative flow on will use old electronics to create artworks or sculptures. These projects can showcase creativity and sustainability. 


Recycling Process: Again, the materials collected will be sorted and from there will move onto the following steps: 

  1. Inspection: These different materials need to be inspected. Ensuring that there are no stains or tears on the textiles is crucial to the process. 
  2. Cleaning: Get the Vanish out. Dirt, stains and contaminants need to be washed away ready for the next stage. 
  3. Shredding or Cutting: The textiles are shredded or cut into smaller pieces to help the processing. This step increases the surface area of the textiles.
  4. Reprocessing: The extracted fibres are then processed to create new textile products or materials. This may involve spinning the fibres into yarns, weaving or knitting fabric.
  5. Manufacturing & Distribution: Now that the recycled fibres are ready to go. They will be packaged and distributed across the world to produce many products. 

End Products: 

  • Clothing: Your old clothing materials could be turned into new clothing such as T-Shirts, Jeans, Jackets, Dresses etc. 
  • Home Textiles: Recycled textiles can be transformed into home textiles such as bedding, towels, curtains, upholstery, and rugs.
  • Accessories: Bags, Wallets, Scarves and Gloves just to name a few. 
  • Industrial: Insulation, soundproofing and padding.
  • Insulation and Stuffing: Insulation or stuffing in pillows, cushions, mattresses, and furniture.

With all of the above materials they will all be sent to an MRF. MRF stands for Materials Recovery Facility. It's a specialised recycling facility where recyclable materials are collected, sorted, and processed for recycling.

MRFs play a crucial role in the recycling process by efficiently separating different types of materials from your household recycling, such as paper, plastic, glass, and metal, to prepare them for re-use or re-manufacturing.

The Impact of Recycling

You will hear companies, governments, local councils talking about recycling frequently and this is because recycling can not be understated, by recycling we are creating a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of living.

You see, when you recycle, you are not just saving the planet, you are giving waste a second chance of redemption. It is like sending your unused Coke can to a recycling centre so that when it emerges it is a shiny new aluminium product, full of life. By doing this, we are stopping the need for more manufacturing to take place and more resources from being used.

Recycling serves as a powerful weapon in our ongoing battle against waste. By diverting waste away from landfills, recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps the conservation of valuable resources like energy, water and raw materials. Apart from it being environmentally friendly, recycling also does create jobs and promotes a more sustainable business model.

Challenges and Solutions

Contamination in Recycling Bins:

Placing the wrong thing in the wrong bin can greatly affect the recycling process and your recycling collection.  When greasy pizza boxes, plastic bags, or non-recyclable waste like garden hoses, find their way into recycling bins such as household waste bins, they contaminate the entire batch of recyclables. 

This contamination can disrupt the sorting machinery at recycling facilities, causing delays and increasing processing costs.

For instance, placing plastic in your food waste bin will result in the plastic being taken to a food processing station where it would have to be thrown away rather then sorted, recycled and reused! 

We are not saying to guard your recycling bins like John Wick avenging his dog, we are just saying to be a bit more aware of what items we are actually putting in the recycling bins. By minimising contamination, we can ensure that recycling efforts are more effective and sustainable in the long run.

Improving Recycling Rates:

Recycling doesn't have to be a grind, or mean that you are picking out every individual bit of greasy cheese from your 12inch meat feast (Steady on)

There are a few quick and easy ways that household and businesses can improve recycling: 

For Households:

  1. Rinse containers before recycling to prevent contamination and odour.
  2. Flatten cardboard boxes and plastic bottles to save space in recycling bins.
  3. Keep a recycling guide handy for quick reference on what items are recyclable.
  4. Encourage family members to participate in recycling efforts and make it a household priority.
  5. Reduce single-use plastics by opting for reusable alternatives whenever possible.
  6. Consider composting organic waste to further reduce household waste.

For Businesses:

  1. Provide employees with clearly labelled recycling bins throughout the workplace.
  2. Offer training sessions or informational materials on proper recycling practices for employees.
  3. Partner with waste management companies to optimise recycling programs (Cough Cough Busy Bins)
  4. Conduct regular audits of waste streams to identify opportunities for increased recycling.
  5. Implement a waste reduction policy that emphasises recycling and waste diversion.
  6. Purchase recycled content products and materials for use in your business operations.
  7. Reduce paper usage by transitioning to digital documents & electronic communications.
  8. Engage employees in sustainability initiatives & encourage them to share ideas for improving recycling efforts and getting everyone involved in an environmentally friendly way.

How You Can Help

  • Proper Sorting: Give the pizza boxes an inspection. Take off the plastic from food waste before chucking it away. Don't throw Nappy sacks in with your garden waste. Keep a close and careful eye on what happens to your recycling and what you place in your mixed recycling bins. By sorting your waste before recycling, you can create a positive environmental impact and reduce waste sent to landfill. 
  • Reducing Waste: Now that you are an expert at sorting your waste, try to reduce it. Making a conscious effort to do this can be easier then you think. For instance, a quick one could be instead of buying 50 cheap plastic sandwich bags for your lunches, invest in a lunch box or bag. Or, you could ditch those non reusable coffee cups and switch to a flask. Yes...we know your homemade frappuccino with extra caramel sauce isn't the same as when the 18 year old student in Starbucks makes it, but, you can bask in the sweet taste of being sustainable instead. 
  • Support for Recycled Products: If you find that you just can't quite ditch the coffee cups (The frap just goes down too well) then at least look to use cafes that have an emphasis on using recycled coffee cups or bamboo cups. By choosing recycled products you are creating a sustainable recycling loop. There are plenty of recycled products being used everyday, so they are more readily available then ever.

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