If you live in a city with an active recycling program, you enjoy the convenience of being able to place your recycling out with the trash and have someone pick it up at the curb and take it away to be processed. But have you ever wondered what happens to your recyclables after pickup? The municipal waste system can be fascinating, if a bit smelly, and the steps city employees take to turn recycled plastics into new items are specific and complex. Here are five steps of the recycling process that your recycled plastic bottles may undergo.

1. Sorting

Sorting generally occurs at the recycling facility, regardless of whether or not you're required to sort plastics before collection. Some facilities sort plastics by hand. Workers distinguish between types of plastics and place each type in its own collection. Other facilities use a more hands-off process, using high-tech equipment to machine-sort the bottles and other plastic materials. This is an important step because different types of plastic behave differently during processing and manufacturing and have different re-use applications.

2. Grinding

Once the plastics are thoroughly sorted, they'll pass through machines that will grind them thoroughly into flakes. This homogenizes the material, making it easier to clean and melt down. Washing out bottles with small necks, as you've probably discovered, can be quite a challenge, so recycling facilities don't even bother washing the plastics until after shredding them.

3. Cleaning

The plastic flakes are generally cleaned at this stage. Facilities use chemicals to clean and disinfect the material so you won't have to worry about getting someone else's germs from a recycled plastic bottle. After this cleaning has occurred, the homogenized plastic flakes are ready to be either melted down or used directly in new products.

4. Melting

Melting down is an optional step. Whether or not the recycling facility performs this step may depend on the facility and the type of plastic involved. Generally, the types of plastic that manufacturers use are melted down and shaped into pellets for maximum convenience. Other plastics may be sent to manufacturers in flake form.

5. Re-Using

The type of plastic in the material will dictate what products it may be used in during future reincarnations. Not all recycled plastic bottles will be used to create new bottles. Some may become polar fleece, decking material, or even carpets.

These five steps get your plastic bottles through the recycling process from the time they arrive at the recycling facility until the time they're turned into brand new products that can be sold in stores. If you have any questions about recycling, consider contacting a local recycling service, such as recycling Recycle-It Resource Recovery.