How and Why Recycling is Done

This week’s blog post is written by Nathan C., a Drummers alumni.  He talks about his local recycling facility, and how it handles all the materials that come through – giving us a deeper insight into how the whole process works!

Nathan C.

“Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” This phrase is commonplace in the United States and for good reason too. This nation contains a mere four percent of the global population, yet it is the number one producer of waste in the world. Reducing, Reusing and Recycling are not only great for the environment, but also beneficial to your wallet and the economy. Reducing and Reusing what you buy saves you, the consumer, money; recycling creates jobs for millions nationwide. As for the environment, all three of the actions help conserve our nation’s natural resources and protect its ecosystems. Reducing and Reusing is simple enough, however recycling not so much. And as the science of recycling advances, the process gets more and more complex and efficient. So let’s take a closer look at recycling, and where better to start than with a familiar name, Penn Waste.


Located in York County, Penn Waste’s 96,000 square-foot recycling center annually processes over 150 tons of recyclable material. That’s a lot of recyclables, and it’s no wonder considering the recycling center is the gathering place for the waste of over 180,000 households scattered across South Central PA. At the center cardboard, cartons, plastics #’s 1-7, glass and paper are all broken down and reassembled in various methods.

Quick List of Recyclable Material on Top of Lid

For instance, paper is first sorted by color and type, then cleaned with a soap-like solution to remove dyes, inks, tape, and staples. Afterwords, the paper is put into a vat filled with water to create “slurry”. The slurry is then spread out onto large sheets using rollers. When the slurry dries the resulting paper is then sold so it may enter the market yet again. For every ton of paper recycled the following is saved: 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 7,000 gallons of water, and 17 mature trees. Cardboard is processed in a similar manner but by an even faster method. So fast that two days after your cardboard has been picked up by a recycling truck, it may already have been recycled and sold to a packaging company.


Other examples being glass and plastic, which are handled in similar ways. Glass is sorted by color, then cleaned, melted, reshaped, and cooled. The great thing about recycling glass is that it does not degrade through the recycling process, so it can be recycled time and time again. Plastics #’s 1-7 are also recycled. Those are the plastics that make up plastic water bottles, deli meat wrap, newspaper and retail bags, styrofoam (polystyrene), and condiment containers like ketchup bottles. The plastics are first sorted by the polymers they are made up of, then chipped or shredded into small bits which are then melted and reshaped. Recycling one ton of plastic saves 2,000 pounds of petroleum, and recycling glass keeps it out of landfills where it takes an estimated one million years to break down.


Lastly, metals can repurposed too. Steel and aluminum can be collected in mass from industrial operations and junkyards. After being sorted the metals are melted, purified, and then cooled. Every pound of steel recycled saves an average of 5,450 BTU’s of energy. That is enough to power the computer you are most likely reading this article on, for three hours.

Large Penn Waste Recycling Bin

Though it may seem trivial or not worth the effort, the act of recycling contributes great aid to the modern world. A world where it is now vital to use our resources wisely, as they are both finite and precious. When only a few recycle, only small benefits can be reaped. When recycling occurs in mass by the majority of a population, the effects are positive and plentiful. So the next time you are scrunching up a wad of paper to throw into the trash can, aim for the recycling one instead. Every piece recycled aids the world, and all those who dwell in it.