Skip to content
Trucks moving piles of recycling in a materials processing facility

How to Recycle

What happens to my recycling?

On this page

Find out how your recycling is collected, sorted and processed.

Collection at kerbside

Recycling collection services vary across the country. The factors that influence these services include whether the area is urban or rural, the different types of housing and the facilities available to process your recycling.

Broadly there are three scheme types: 

  • 'Kerbside sort' schemes where recyclables are sorted into their respective materials on the lorry at the kerbside;

  • 'Two-stream' where paper and card is collected in one compartment and the containers (cans, plastic bottles and glass bottles and jars) are collected in another compartment; and

  • 'Co-mingled' collections where all your recyclables are put into one compartment on the lorry before being taken to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and sorted.

Processing at a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF)

At the MRF, all the mixed recycling is sorted and separated into different types of materials by hand or machine (or both) before being sent to manufacturers who make it into new products.

Once materials have been sorted, recycled materials become valuable commodities in the worldwide market.

The sorting process

  • Sorting begins with the removal of any non-recyclable items.

  • A vibrating machines separates the cardboard and paper - different types of paper are sorted by hand and then baled.

  • The remaining recyclables continue on another conveyor where steel cans are removed using magnets.

  • Different types of plastic are identified and separated using optical scanners.

  • A special kind of magnet called an eddy current is used to sort aluminium cans.

  • Glass is the remaining material and this drops off the end of the conveyor into a large container.

  • Once separated they are taken for reprocessing at specialist factories.

Problems caused by contamination

The biggest problem for a recycling facility is contamination - when incorrect items are put in the recycling container. These items must be removed by hand; otherwise the quality of the recycling would be reduced - affecting the markets into which it can be sold. This not only slows down the process, but if these items are missed, it can clog or damage the machinery and other equipment.

The materials collected for recycling vary from area to area; so although an item of packaging  may state that it is recyclable, only put it out for collection if your local authority has confirmed that they can accept it.

Find out more about how to avoid contamination

Find out what you can recycle from home

Enter your postcode to check

Explore more

Help spread the word by sharing this page