How do Recycling Centres Work?

Recycling has become a well-known term which (hopefully) makes you separate recyclables from your trash and place them in the correctly labeled bins. But have you ever really wondered how recycling actually works? There are many people who wonder every day if they’ve been doing their trash separation wrong. It’s simply because there is not enough awareness of what can and what can’t be recycled.

In order to truly understand, you need to be aware of the necessary steps recyclable products undergo during the recycling process. There are a lot of different aspects that affect the efficiency of that process. No matter if you want to enter the recycling business or you simply want to be truly environment-friendly, it’s important to understand the guidelines in order to get a clear insight into the recycling process.

Various Methods of Pickups

The most common is a curbside one – trucks traveling the city just like garbage trucks. They can be fitted with separate containers for different recyclable materials where workers do the preliminary sorting, or they can have only one compartment and the materials are sorted later. One way or another, it’s preferable that homeowners separate recyclables themselves to make this task easier.

The second method introduces a central location for accepting recyclable materials which homeowners transport themselves. These drop-off centers can co-exist with curbside pickups for the reclamation of hazardous materials such as propane gas or paint.

The third method is a variation of drop-off centers which pay homeowners for recyclable items according to the market value – auto scrap yard, for example.

And the fourth method is tied to the refund/deposit connected to a purchase. The best example is beverages in a bottle or can where the deposit is added to the sale price which homeowners can get back after returning the empty bottle or can to a collection center.

All the recyclable items from this collection centers are then tipped into large transport trucks which take them to Materials Recovery Facility, and that is the beginning of

The Sorting Process

For unloading the transport trucks you need the equipment which is a spine of every recyclable process – various types of conveyors. This is where all the sorting happens. Through a front-end loader, the recyclables are put into a hopper which then feeds them to these conveyor belts.


The first sort is the hand-made one. All corrugated cardboard and trash need to be pulled out by hand and dropped into separate chutes leading to large bins below. Trash is then trucked to the landfill. The remaining stream of recyclables is fed through the conveyor to a rake-like separator which allows metal and plastic containers to drop off to a side conveyor while cardboard and paper roll over the top. Boxboard, cardboard, and paper continue their way along three conveyor lines where they’re again pulled out by hand and dropped into chutes leading to separate bins. In the end, they’re fed to fiber baler which runs continuously. After that bales of cardboard and paper are stacked and stored, loaded in trucks and shipped where they’ll be used to manufacture many new products such as cardboard boxes, office paper, newspaper, etc.


Various plastic bottles also need to be picked by the hand and dropped into bins. This is probably the tackiest part of the recycling process simply because plastic recycling is very confusing. Since plastics can be made up to six different materials, some of them are much easier to recycle than the others. In some of the newer recycling centers, different types of plastics are separated with infrared sensors based on the type of light they reflect. It’ important to know that some plastics are simply not recyclable, such as styrofoam for example, and should be simply thrown away.


To get to the glass, you need a fan that will push the lighter goods such as plastic and aluminum (which isn’t magnetic but we’ll get back to that) upward, leaving the heavier glass items to drop down to a conveyor belt.  After that, the glass bottles are pulled out and crushed by slotted rollers. The glass is never crushed to pieces larger than 5 cm and is always sorted by color – green, brown, or clear. The reason why colors are important is that they’re permanent on the glass. Obviously, the clear one is the easiest to make, but the exposure to the sun can make the material held in the glass degrade.


Cans are grabbed from container line the same way metals are – with a rotating magnet above. When it comes to bigger metal the magnet is more powerful in order to remove it. Steel is the easiest to use since it simply needs to be crushed and melted down in order to be mixed with new one and refashioned. That’s why steel cans are such a catch. But there are aluminum ones, too. So after all the steel ones are removed the Eddy Current Separator steps to the scene. This big spinning drum is able to create a strong magnetic field (induction field, to be precise) which repels these aluminum cans, making them jump off the belt and into the bin. Just as steel, reusing aluminum is also easy – it needs to be shredded and melted to make new sheets.

There you have it. Now that you’re familiar with the process you’re ready for business or at least for a quiet night sleep without the disruption of environmental guilt.

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Hannah Thomas, the author of this post, is gardening and home decor enthusiast.

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Written by Greenlichen

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