Plastic in its many forms has been around for just over 100 years. It started out as Bakelite, used as a protective coating in making radios and telephones.

It was branded as ‘the material of a thousand uses’. Now, plastic is one of the most commonly-found materials in the world.

The problem is: plastic doesn’t biodegrade. Every bit of plastic ever created still exists somewhere on the planet. Whether in landfill, the oceans, or recycled into new products, plastic really has proven to be one of the most durable materials around.

An excellent way to slow down how much new plastic is created every day is to put plastic bottles, tubs, trays and pots in the blue bin. This has a huge impact, as it takes 70% less energy to make a bottle from recycled plastic than from virgin materials.

But how does it work?

What happens when your blue bin gets collected, filled with your bottles of pop, butter trays and yoghurt pots?

As it’s Recycle Week, and today’s focus is plastics, we thought we’d take a few moments to explain the process. Here is a step-by-step guide to how plastic gets recycled:

  • When the contents of your bin arrive at the materials recycling facility (MRF), plastics are separated by machines and by hand.
  • There are many different ‘types’ of plastic, so these are grouped together.
  • Plastics must then be divided into different colour groups:
    • blue
    • natural
    • green
    • mixed.
  • The plastics are shredded into flakes and then placed in water. Various plastic types either rise to the top or sink, making it easy to identify them throughout the process.
  • The shreds are thoroughly washed and dried to ensure they are completely clean, before being melted.
  • Melted liquid is set in long thin strips, which are reformed into pellets.
  • Pellets are the basis for all recycled plastic products. They can create fabrics, and be woven into football shirts, fleeces, and other clothing – it would take roughly 10 bottles to make a new t-shirt. These pellets could also find new life as picnic benches, pencils, buckets and even parts of rockets.

There are so many ways to transform a humble bit of plastic into something new and amazing. For full information about which types of plastic you can put in your blue bin, please visit our A–Z of recycling.

You can also find out how other materials get recycled on our website.