What actually happens to our recycling and why is recycling important?

We remove the packaging, we use the product, we put the waste in the pink recycling bag and haul it out onto the street when collection day arrives. Repeat week after week and know you are doing your bit for the environment, right?

Have you ever thought about what happens after your recycling is collected? What does recycling really entail and is it really as good for the environment as we are led to believe? All important questions, and ones that we could be here all-day debating! However, we will try to cover the basics here, so that you have some idea as to why you should recycle and what that means for our relationship with the planet.

So, let’s start with the basics.

Originally written by Rebecca Hansell in December 2020 for Small World, Big Cause. Refreshed and edited for The Curious Environmentalist July 2021.

Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials in a way that repurposes them and prevents them from become everyday trash. The process of recycling is complex and fascinating but can be broken down into 3 basic steps which create a loop of usage for the products that we use.

Recycling: What happens to it & why is it important?

Step 1 of the process – Collection and processing of recyclable waste

Recycling cannot happen without the collection of recyclable goods. Whether this is curb-side collection or drop-off bin banks, we separate the products deemed as recyclable from our everyday rubbish. Once they have arrived at the recycling centre, it is sorted into different materials, such as glass, plastic and paper, it is cleaned and then processed into new products which can be reused in manufacturing practices and sold to companies who can reuse the recyclables to create their saleable products.

Step 2 of the process – Manufacturing new products

Thankfully, recycled material is popular for creating new products, which is great news for the environment. Many everyday products are now made from either 100% or a proportion of recycled materials, including newspapers, kitchen/toilet rolls, containers, cans, road paving, carpeting and many other upcycled products for home décor.

Step 3 of the process – Sale of new products made from recycled materials

Consumer demand is a power that could be the answer towards many environmental issues of our time. By buying products that are made of recycled materials, or are themselves easily recycled, we are creating a demand for environmentally friendly products which will cause change throughout the businesses who have the power to choose recycled materials for their manufacturing practices.

There are so many benefits to recycling, and it has become part of our everyday practices. However, many of us are so used to recycling purely because it is what we have always done. So, let’s remind ourselves of some of the great things we are doing when we fill those pink bags or black bins and drag them to the curb!

  1. Less waste going into landfill
  2. Reusing natural resources conserves them for future generations
  3. Better for the local economy through use of domestic resources over imports
  4. Reduces pollution
  5. Saves energy
  6. Recycling/manufacturing processes creates employment opportunities to compensate for those who work in antiquated industries regarding fossil fuels.

So, basically, if you recycle then you are an eco-hero. Go you!

Useful Links, if you want to learn more:





Dirty Business: What Really Happens To Your Recycling (Sky News)


What Happens To Your Recycling After It’s Collected? (NowThis)


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