By Isobella Jade
After watching Wa$ted and finding more information out about how to go green, are you curious about what happens to the things you recycle? Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of your recyclables is like? If so, you'll enjoy some insight into the recycling process by taking the journey that plastic bottles, paper, aluminum and steel cans experience daily.
Recycling plastic bottles: Did you know that a water bottle and a milk jug have different recycling paths? At the recycling facility, plastic bottles are sorted and separated based on the plastic bottle's Plastic Identification Code (PIC). The PIC is the assigned number that is stamped on the bottom of the plastic container and surrounded by the universal recycling symbol.
There are only two economically practical plastics to be recycled, one being PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate) plastics; these plastics have a PIC code of 1. PETE plastics include ketchup bottles and yogurt containers, soft drinks, water bottles, salad dressing bottles and even shampoo bottles. There is one other economical plastic and that is called HDPE (High-density Polyethylene) plastics. These have a PIC code of 2 and it includes milk jugs, juice bottles, and laundry detergent.
The bottles are then sorted by color and their Plastic Identification Code, and then the bottles are squashed together and made into big bales. These bales of plastic bottles are bought by reclamation facilities, which wash and grind the plastic into smaller pieces. These small pieces of plastic are dried and then go through a process called melt filtration which filters through a screen that creates resin pellets or blow-molded bottles which are ready for the remanufacturing into new plastic material.
Recycling paper: The first stop at the paper mill is to sort and separate the paper by grades, or type of paper. Then the paper moves by conveyor to the pulper, which contains water and chemicals to separate fibers from each other so that the pulper can chop the paper into tiny pieces. As the heated mixture breaks down the [url='http://www.treehugger.com/files/2004/11/ecotip_coffee_c.php']paper fibers, the old paper turns into a mushy texture called pulp. The pulp is sent through a screening process to filter any contaminants that are larger than pulp fibers, such as bits of plastic, staples, glue and twine. Then the pulp is cleaned again by spinning it in a large cone-shaped cylinder.
Next, the pulp is compressed to make the recycled fibers swell, which then makes them ideal for papermaking. After being compressed, color stripping chemicals remove the dyes from the paper. If white paper is desired then the next process is bleaching by using peroxides and hydrosulfites to remove color from the pulp making it whiter and brighter.
At last, the pulp is ready for papermaking which starts by fusing the pulp with water and chemicals together so that it is 99.5 percent water. This blend of watery pulp enters at the beginning of the paper machine and is sprayed by a wide jet continuously. The soaking pulp then heads towards a large flat wire screen where water starts to drain from the pulp, and the recycled fibers quickly begin to attach together to create a watery sheet. Lastly, felt-covered press rollers squeeze out more water. Now the sheet resembles paper, and heated metal rollers dry the paper.
After being wound up, the finished recycled paper is removed from the machine and is cut and shipped to the converting plant where it will be printed or made into new paper products such as paper bags, envelopes, or boxes.
Recycling aluminum and steel cans: At the recycling plant, aluminum cans are shredded and melted into a molt. Then the molten aluminum is slowly hardened into a bar of metal that is called an ingot. These ingots are then melted into aluminum sheets and the sheets are made into new cans, and the cycle begins again since aluminum doesn't lose its quality and can be recycled again and again.
Steel cans are often called tin cans because they are coated with a thin layer of tin. This tin is valuable and can be sold and re-used. So, at the recycling plant, this layer of tin is removed and made into tin ingot blocks. The rest of the steel can is melted in a furnace and the molten is poured into casters that roll and flatten the steel into sheets and after the sheets cool, they will be made into new food cans, or new cars, bicycles, boats, cookware, wires and girders for buildings.