Recycling plants process used materials that would otherwise be discarded as garbage, allowing them to be reused for various purposes. The different types of recycling plants include those that process glass, metals, and paper back into raw materials. Other plants focus on items that require complicated recycling processes, such as concrete, electronic equipment and various plastics. Single-stream recycling centers improve recycling rates by taking on an unpopular task, separating household waste into its various recyclable components. Some plants are designed to recycle items that cannot be processed by other facilities, such as Christmas lights or batteries.
The different types of recycling plants differ by the material they are geared to reclaim; each material requires a unique process and specialized equipment. For this reason, numerous plants are necessary to process all the recyclables from a given city or region. The exception is single-stream recycling plants, also known as single-sort or commingle plants. The equipment in these plants includes electromagnets for gathering metals, air blowers to remove light plastic bottles, and paper traps, all of which are activated by optical scanners. These plants are designed to quickly and efficiently separate various recyclables, some of which will be shipped to other plants for processing.
The most efficient recycling plants include those that process metals like aluminum and steel. The recycled materials generated by these plants are equal in quality to new materials; the same is true of glass recycling centers. Concrete is crushed and turned into gravel or road fill, a fairly simple and straightforward process. Biodegradable materials and organic waste are transformed into useful soils and fertilizers through a chemical process called composting. These low-cost, high-return recycling processes are important for business and environmental reasons, as they increase profitability for recycling companies and reduce the burden on natural resources.
Recycling plants that deal with paper and plastic are involved in more complicated processes. Paper must be soaked in water and reduced to a fibrous matter called pulp before it can be reused. Paper with chemical additives, such as “glossy” magazine or advertising pages, can impede this technique and must be processed separately. Plastics must likewise be separated during the recycling process, as there are many different kinds of plastic, each with its own unique chemical structure. Most plastic products are marked with a numerical system that identifies the type of plastic for recycling purposes.
Various electronic components require their own specialized recycling plants. Printer and toner cartridges, for example, can often be refilled and quickly returned to the market. Batteries, on the other hand, must be handled carefully because of potentially hazardous materials; the same is true of computer components, cell phones and other forms of electronic waste, often called “e-waste.” Some recycling plants focus on specialty items that ordinary plants are not equipped to process, such as Christmas lights or abandoned sea vessels. Concerns about the environment have led to an increase in the creation of such plants around the world.