What happens to your recycling?

By recycling more, we're helping Scotland meet its ambitious target of recycling 70% of all waste by 2025. As we recycling more we are helping to reduce carbon emissions and tackle climate change - it takes less energy to make recycled products than using raw materials. Here's how to check all the things you can put in your recycling. But what happens to the plastic, tins, card, paper once your recycling is lifted?

Our short video explains the journey your recycling takes when it leaves your home through being sorted and being made ready to become a new product at a re-processing plant. 

Once the sorted materials reach the re-processing plants, here's what happens to them.


Where it goes

What it ends up as

Aluminium cans, tins and aerosols  UK and EU Markets  

Bales of aluminium cans are collected from site, then shredded into pieces the size of a walnut in a 1,000-horsepower shredder. The shreds are then passed through a double magnetic drum separator to remove any steel that may have been mixed into the bale. After any lacquer or paint on the aluminium is removed, the shreds are then fed into melting furnaces containing submerged stirrers that create a vortex in the pool of molten aluminium and drag the shreds quickly down into the melt. The molten metal is transferred into a holding furnace, where it is treated to remove impurities before casting the aluminium. Ingots are cast which are then re-used as cans throughout the UK, and abroad. 

 Steel cans, tins and aerosols  UK Markets   Cans are sent into a furnace where they are mixed with molten Iron. Oxygen is blasted into the furnace, which is heated to a temperature around 1700°C. The liquid metal is then poured into a mould to form large slabs. These slabs are rolled into coils and used to make new products such as a new bike, car, bridge, paperclip or cans. The product is then sold within the UK. 
CardboardUK, EU and Asian Markets  Cardboard is graded into either brown cardboard or mixed paper/cardboard. Water is added to create a pulp. The pulp is screened to remove any contaminants, such as paper clips and staples, and washed to remove glues (for example the glue from envelopes).  Ink is also removed from the paper and cardboard during the washing process. The processed product is then recycled into cardboard based packaging products. 
Paper UK and EU Markets  The loads are pulped and the fibres screened. The load is then moved to floatation tank where the fibres are cleaned and de-inked. The product is then dried and recycled into various grades of paper relating to quality of load. 
Plastic bottles, tubs, pots and trays UK and EU Markets  Often the bottles have been separated by colour beforehand. HDPE bottles are first ground into small flakes.
These flakes are then washed and floated to remove any heavy (sinkable) contaminants. This cleaned flake is then dried in a stream of hot air and may be boxed and sold in that form. More sophisticated plastic plants may reheat these flakes, add pigment to change the colour and run the material through a pelletizer. This equipment forms little beads of plastic that can then be reused in injection moulding presses to create new products. 
 Foil containers UK and EU Markets They follow a similar process to aluminium cans and are then sold as raw aluminium within the UK and abroad. 
 Liquid food and beverage cartons  UK Markets Cartons are processed through a wash plant, segregated and all recyclable materials are extracted. These raw components are then used to create new tetrapak products. 
Food wasteUKIn Helensburgh and Lomond , the Council collects food waste separately for recycling (this is a Scottish Government mandatory requirement in the Helensburgh area) . Once collected, the food waste is subsequently delivered to an anaerobic digestion plant in the central belt which produces a compost digestate and energy . The following link describes the anaerobic digestion process in more detail - Anaerobic Digestion (Zero Waste Scotland)