Mysteries of recycling revealed

7/10/2014

Mysteries of recycling revealed

Mysteries of recycling revealed

I hope by now we all know why we should recycle but there is a certain mystery surrounding what really happens to all of those items you so carefully sort and deposit into their appropriate recycling bin. They disappear into those metallic containers, and we take it on faith that we have done a good thing for the planet by not sending them to the landfill. As it turns out, you may be surprised to learn how many of the items you use today may be made out of an item you recycled yesterday.

Recycling is a specialized process so each item you recycle will probably go on a lengthy journey through different states and facilities before it returns to the shelves of our local stores. This journey starts with our local recycling center. Garden City's facility is run by a full-time crew of three industrious workers who collect everything you have deposited into the bins around town or brought directly to the recycle center and get it ready for the next step on its trip. Each day our local recycling center processes four tons of waste which would otherwise have ended up in a landfill. Once everything is sorted and bundled, it is sent to one of two centers in Hutchinson, where it will be further sorted and then distributed to companies that will eagerly turn your trash into treasure.

Aluminum is probably one of the best items you can recycle. For every aluminum can you recycle, you can get a brand new aluminum can. Nothing is lost and the process is fairly easy on the environment. In addition to soda cans, recycled aluminum products include bicycle frames, table and chair legs, electrical cables and window frames. Aluminum ore (called bauxite) often comes from sensitive ecological areas, so recycling your aluminum and purchasing recycled items has a direct positive impact on the environment.

Plastic, while still reusable, doesn't have the same lengthy future as aluminum. A "single use" plastic water bottle will not become another water bottle of the same quality. Every time plastic is recycled its chemical composition changes and it can only be turned into a higher level plastic in a process which is often called "downcycling." This is why we can only recycle No. 1 and 2 plastics locally; as the numbers on your plastic get higher, they become more difficult to recycle as the process takes more energy and there are fewer products which can be made from them. The plastics we do recycle might come back to you in the form of detergent bottles, trash cans, rope, reusable shopping bags or even the fiberfill in your sleeping bag.

There are plenty of other ways you might find your old trash in a new form including the insulation in your walls which may once have been your glass soda bottle or the cardboard boxes you receive in the mail, which might have come from recycled paper products. As consumers demand more environmentally friendly products, the list of recycled items will continue to grow. It is estimated that we recycle 34 percent of our waste. That means two-thirds of our garbage is headed to landfills. Not all of this can be recovered, but there is plenty of recycling to do and plenty of recycled items to be made.

The Friends of Lee Richardson Zoo are helping to increase our rate of recycling by installing a convenient recycling bin in the zoo (made from recycled plastic!). Next time you visit, think twice before you toss that plastic bottle in the trash — toss it in the recycling bin, and you may get to use it again in a new and surprising way.

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