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What Happens To Your Recycled Plastic?

Whilst most of us recycle at home nowadays, many people have no idea what happens to the plastic items they deposit in recycling bins. Plastic in particular is a bit of a mystery…


Plastic is slightly more difficult to recycle than other materials like paper and glass, but it is well worth the extra bother as it can be recycled into lots of really useful things rather than taking up space in landfill. Whenever we recycle waste materials we reduce the reliance on raw materials.

We throw away an estimated 15 million plastic bottles every day in the UK and that is just bottles alone without all of the other plastic! Thankfully most of these bottles are subsequently recycled.


When recycling bottles it makes good sense to crush them flat first. Crushed bottles take up a third of the space in the bin and ultimately, less bulk in the recycling bins will mean less recycling trucks on the road and a smaller carbon footprint!

There are several different types of plastics; some are easier to recycle than others. Check before placing items in the bin that they are accepted for recycling in your area as when the wrong items are placed in the bins, they usually need to be removed by hand at the recycling centre, which slows down the entire process.


Polyethylene terephthalate, (PETE) is the plastic most frequently used to make containers including drinks bottles, bottles for other consumables, medicine bottles and so on.

This plastic is easily recycled and made into numerous other products and items including;

  • Rope
  • Hairbrushes and combs
  • Car bumpers
  • Fibre filling for sleeping bags, jackets, cushions
  • More bottles!


This high density plastic is used to make the more solid containers and bottles that hold products like shampoo, laundry detergents and bleach. Once processed for recycling this type of plastic is typically made into products including;

  • Children’s toys
  • Piping
  • Plastic lumber, used for decking, garden furniture etc.SOME PLASTICS HAVE A LOW RATE OF ‘RECYCLABILITY’

The following types of plastic are less commonly recycled due to their low rate of ‘recyclability’ so check first before dropping them in with the rest of your plastic that they are accepted locally!

POLYVINYL CHLORIDE – Baby bottle teats, shower curtains etc.
LOW DENSITY POLYETHYLENE – Cling film, shopping bags etc.
POLYPROPYLENE – Tupperware containers etc.


All of the plastic waste is sorted into ‘types’ and any items that cannot be processed are removed. Many facilities use an infrared device to assist with the sorting process.

The plastic is then shredded into small pieces and washed to remove any remaining products or labels before processing.

Finally, the cleaned material is dried, melted and formed into small plastic pellets ready to start its new life. Lots of companies purchase recycled plastic pellets in bulk for the production of their own new items.


Recycling plastic is certainly not easy, due to the different types and the fact that lots of things can go wrong in the process if the batch is contaminated with impurities.

But this material is well worth recycling. It is a complete waste for plastic to end up in landfill, especially as there is no doubt that the use of recycled plastic helps to reduce the demand on other resources.

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