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Recycling 101: How to Make the Cut

Posted by Amanda Shepard on 9/27/2014 to Public Education
Recycling 101: How to Make the Cut
Recycling Bins

Many of us know the basics of recycling: the acceptable materials, the necessity to rinse debris from jars, and we try our best with what we know. We send recyclables away each week without a second thought. But, our part of the process is just the very beginning; Recycled materials go through many more steps, some not even making the cut and ending up in the landfill anyway. We want to give you more insight into how materials are re-born, while also providing tips on how to make sure all of your materials are making it through the process and getting a new life.

Newspapers are an essential part in the remanufacturing process. Too many individuals throw their papers out each day, making it one of the most wasteful products in the world. Next time you finish reading the paper, toss it into the recycling bin where it will eventually take on a new life. Your weekend paper is removed of its ink through a chemical washing process, slushed into pulp, and detergent carries the leftover ink away. After a few more rounds of cleaning, the remaining pulp is mixed with wood pulp and poured onto a wire, allowing excessive moisture to drain through. It is then fed through rollers that help to dry the paper more and flatten it out. At this point, the plant either sends the newsprint out for tomorrow’s news, or re-purposes it into other paper products. Way better than sitting in a landfill, right?

Glass containers need to be empty and rinsed clean before setting out for recycling. Although the plant sorts the glass into different types and colors, it’s not necessary for you to do so (unless you want to go above and beyond). Once at the plant, the glass is broken into small pieces called cullet. This mixture of broken glass is then blended with sand, limestone, and other materials, before being placed in a furnace to melt. After this process, they take on a new life – Some turning back into what they became as bottles and jars, and others become stained glass.

Cardboard, like newspaper, is also an important material to recycle. The first step for cardboard when arriving at the plant is to be sorted: boxboard and corrugated cardboard. Important note: cardboard with grease stains (such as a pizza box) usually doesn’t make the cut. So, think next time before putting your greasy pizza box in the recycling bin – Chances are it might end up in the landfill. Recycled cardboard and boxes are sent to the mill, pulped, blended with wood chip pulp for strength, filtered and de-inked, then sent away to either become new boxboard or corrugated materials.

Tin cans, which are actually mostly made of aluminum, should have the bottom and tops removed and flattened as much as possible. This not only helps the collectors pick up more volume, but also makes the detinning process much easier at the plant. A chemical solution flows through the cans, which helps separate, purify, and recover the steel and tin. Once this process is finished, the material is grouped into large squares and sold away to make new products. Aluminum is a common recyclable – Many of our beer and soda cans are made of aluminum and (at least in Vermont) we can choose to get a deposit back at the store for our cans, or recycle them weekly. The aluminum scrap metal made from recycling can be sold to a scrap metal dealer, sent away to a manufacturing plant to make new cans, or made into aluminum foil. Aluminum is one of the most widely recyclable materials in the US and is constantly being re-worked into new products.

Now that you know the process each material goes through to become something new, hopefully you’ll remember to rinse out that tomato sauce jar a little better, or remove the top and bottom to your tin can and crush it. It not only helps save time at the recycling plant, but also makes sure that your materials are making it through and not ending up in the landfill. For more recycling news and tips, please find us on Facebook.