What Happens to Recycled Items?

Now that you have recycled your items and they have been taken to the recycling center, what happens to them? Without knowing what happens next, it is hard to truly understand the impact you are making by decreasing your waste sent to the landfill. Read below to find out how items are recycled and what they can be made into.

Aluminum Cans

Aluminum cans are compacted into a bale at the recycling center. These bales are sent to processing plants where they are shredded into small pieces. These shreds of aluminum are then melted down and mixed with raw aluminum materials. The melted aluminum is then molded into new aluminum materials, including new aluminum cans and aluminum foil.


Glass cullet after being pulverized.

In Montana, recycling glass entails crushing the glass into small pieces called cullet. The cullet is used in different applications, rather than being melted down and made into something new. Headwaters Recycling has a mobile glass pulverizer, which makes it easier to recycle glass in state rather than paying to ship it out of state. Cullet in Montana is used to replace sand in several applications, such as sports turf, landscaping, brick manufacturing, septic tank draining fields, and paved surfaces. The cullet is so smooth to the touch that it can even be used as a surface for playgrounds.


Before anything can be done with paper, it must first be separated by its type. This includes white office paper, newspaper, and magazines. Like most other recyclables, paper is compressed into large bales for easy transport. Once at a paper mill, the paper is shredded and mixed with water to create a pulp. This pulp is put through a process of cleaning before it is further beaten to create slush. Then the paper is put through the papermaking process just like virgin materials would be. Recycled paper can be made into new office paper, or it can be used for newspaper, toilet paper, paper towels, or a number of other items.


The plastic bottle recycling process begins by separating the bottles by their resin identification code, which differentiates the types of plastics. For instance, all #1 PET plastics must be separated from their caps as well as #2 HDPE plastics. Once the plastics are separated, they are baled and sent to a recycling plant. Once there, they are shredded into flakes and then melted down into a pellet. The pellets are then sent to companies to be made into new items. Recycled #1 plastics can be made into fleece or carpeting. Recycled #2 plastics are often made into artificial lumber for outdoor furniture or decking.

Electronic Waste

Electronics ready for shipment to be recycled.

Unlike other materials, electronic waste is made up of several different parts, making its recycling process more complex. Up to 99% of an electronic item can be recycled, making this recycling effort a worthwhile endeavor. For electronic recycling, people must be employed to take apart the items and separate out the individual pieces. Many parts can be melted down and used for something else, such as the copper and gold parts. These items can also be a source of income for electronic recyclers. Other parts can simply be reused in new products, such as the plastic found in many devices. Another major benefit to electronic recycling is the decrease of hazardous waste making it to the landfills. Although electronic recycling does not completely eliminate items from being sent to a landfill, it greatly decreases the amount of waste in the landfill.

For more information about what happens to items once they are recycled, check out Earth 911's website.