How Recycling is Made Into New Products

Recycling gives new purpose to materials that would otherwise be discarded as waste. Used paper, plastics, glass, and metals can be collected, processed, and manufactured into fresh products for consumption. This cyclic system provides environmental and economic benefits over linear models of extraction, production, and disposal. Getting recycled materials back into market circulation starts with collection methods, sorting processes, material-specific reprocessing, and remanufacturing. Brand new consumer goods are created from recycled content, sold by businesses, and bought by environmentally-minded shoppers who complete the loop. When utilized well, recycling transforms trash into valuable raw materials for production while conserving resources, reducing pollution and waste, and enabling a model of sustainability and circularity.

waste recycling

1. Collection of Recyclable Materials

The recycling process starts with the collection of used materials that can be recycled. Many municipal recycling programs provide home collection of recyclables in curbside bins. Common materials collected include paper, cardboard, glass bottles and jars, aluminum cans, steel cans, and plastic containers. Recycling centers also allow people to directly drop off recyclables.

Businesses and institutions have their own recycling collections for all the paper, containers, and packaging materials they use. Waste management companies often provide recycling bins and pick up services. The collected recyclables are transported to material recovery facilities.

2. Sorting the Materials

At the material recovery facilities, the collected recyclables go through a sorting process to separate out each type of material. This is done through a series of conveyor belts, screens, filters, and manual sorting by workers.

Magnets pull out steel and tin cans. Paper materials go through screens and are sorted by shape and weight. Plastics are filtered by their resin types, indicated by the numbered recycling symbols. Glass bottles and jars are sorted by color. Aluminum is identified through eddy current separators. Further manual sorting removes any stray items or contaminants.

Properly sorted recyclables can then undergo the appropriate recycling processes for each material type. Precise sorting is crucial to producing high quality recycled materials that can be made into new products.

3. Processing the Materials

Once sorted, the various recyclables go through material-specific processing:


Plastic items are shredded and melted down into plastic chips that can used to manufacture new plastic products. The chips are tested to ensure they meet quality standards. Different plastic resin types and colors are processed separately.


Paper is mixed with water and turned into slurry. The ink, bindings, and fillers are removed to leave just paper fiber. The fibers are cleaned and screened. Some fibers may be bleached or de-inked further to achieve desired aesthetic properties. The clean pulp can be made into recycled paper, cardboard, tissue, and other products.


Glass bottles and jars are crushed into cullet, small glass pieces. The cullet is sorted by color – clear, brown, or green. It is mixed with sand, soda ash, and limestone to make new glass products. Adding crushed recycled glass significantly reduces the energy needs for glass manufacturing.


Scrap metal from cans, appliances, vehicles, and construction is shredded and melted down. The molten metal is purified to remove coatings and alloys. It can be mixed with virgin materials as feedstock for metal casting or rolling processes to make new metal products.

4. Making New Products

The processed recycled materials serve as valuable raw materials to manufacture new consumer and industrial goods:


Recycled plastic chips or pellets can be remade into many plastic products:

  • Containers – soda bottles, milk jugs, detergent containers
  • Bags – grocery bags, trash bags
  • Furniture – chairs, tables, decking 
  • Textiles – fleece jackets, carpets
  • Construction materials – pipes, flooring

The type of plastic product depends on the resin type. Some plastics can be recycled repeatedly. Adding recycled plastic reduces energy usage in plastic production.


Paper pulp made from recycled paper can be used to produce:

  • Newspaper
  • Office paper 
  • Paper towels
  • Toilet paper
  • Cardboard boxes and packaging
  • Egg cartons
  • Cereal boxes

Recycled paper makes up 75% of boxboard and 37% of newspaper. Using recycled paper decreases waste sent to landfills, water use, air pollution, and greenhouse gases.


Cullet combined with raw materials helps manufacture these common glass items:

  • Bottles – wine, beer, soda 
  • Jars – sauce, jelly 
  • Fiberglass insulation
  • Paving gravel

Glass has the ability to be recycled endlessly without any loss in purity or quality. Glass recycling gives products improved stability, hardness, and noise dampening.


Scrap metals recover useful elements and alloys for applying across industries:

  • Construction steel 
  • Vehicle parts
  • Appliances
  • Electronics
  • Beverage cans 
  • Food cans

Almost 90% of steel and iron products incorporate recycled metal content. Recycled copper and aluminum retain high value too. Producing goods with recycled instead of raw metals uses far less energy and emissions.

5. Selling the New Products

The recycled products re-enter supply chains and commercial markets like any other manufactured item. Companies utilize recycled materials to make products to sell to industrial or individual consumers.

Governments lead by procuring recycled goods for operations and contracting. Many commit to sustainability goals around circular supplies and eco-friendly purchasing. Some brands actively promote their use of post-consumer recycled materials as a selling point to environmentally-conscious buyers. Revenue from recycled product sales helps fund recycling programs.

6. Buying Recycled Products

Consumers complete the recycling loop by purchasing products made from recycled content. Every person can create demand for recycled goods that motivates companies to source sustainable materials. To enable the circular economy, people can actively look for recycled labeling when shopping.

Recycled paper products are very common now – office paper, toilet paper, tissues, paper towels, envelopes and more. Other easily available recycled products include decking lumber made from plastic or composted wood, fleece jackets from PET bottles, recycled glass counters, and aluminum roofing from smelted cans.

Governments also support recycling markets by requiring minimum post-consumer recycled content in certain purchased products. More buying of recycled drives further recycling innovation and infrastructure.

7. Benefits of Using Recycled Materials

Some key advantages to utilizing recycled materials rather than extraction of new virgin resources:

  • Conserves natural resources – reduces need for logging, mining, drilling     
  • Prevents waste from burdening landfills – gives used materials renewed purpose
  • Significant energy savings over manufacturing from raw materials 
  • Far less water consumption and water pollution  
  • Greatly decreased air pollution and greenhouse gas discharges   
  • Enables circular supply chains rather than linear waste streams

Environmentally-conscious companies and consumers are helping build the recycling economy by demanding recycled materials. This powers sustainability across global production and consumption systems.

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