What happens to your recycling

Learn what happens to your recyclables after they get picked up from your home or workplace.
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This 1.5 minute-video shows what happens to recyclables after the recycling truck takes them away:

Vinod Singh explains how recyclables are sorted at Hillsboro's Far West Recycling, and where they go from there.

How recycling is sorted

In Portland, paper, cardboard, metal, and plastic bottles and tubs can all go in one bin. This makes it easier for people to recycle which leads to higher levels of recycling.

But it also means recyclables must be sorted, so all the paper can be sent to the paper mill, metal to the metal recycling facility, etc. Sorting is done here in Oregon, in big warehouses where both machines and people work to remove items that aren’t recyclable and sort out the rest by material type.

An illustration showing the process of recycling
Graphic provided by the Master Recycler program.

Turning recyclables into new products

Some materials are turned into commodities used here in the Portland metro region. Other materials are sent out of state or overseas to be made into new products.

  • Your empty plastic bottles could become a park bench or filling for a winter coat.
  • Yesterday’s newspaper could become the cereal box you pull off the shelf next year.
  • An aluminum can recycled today can be back on the shelf as a new one in just 60 days!

Watch how materials are sorted and turned into new products in this 13-minute video.

Close the loop: Buy recycled!

Look for products that are made with recycled content. The higher level of recycled content, the better. "Post-consumer recycled content" means the material has come from items recycled by consumers rather than from scrap materials from manufacturing.

Benefits of recycling

By recycling right – putting the right stuff in your recycling bin and keeping other things out – you create jobs and reduce waste sent to landfills.

By using recycled materials to create new products, manufacturers conserve energy and natural resources and reduce pollution. Together, these benefits reduce planet-warming carbon emissions.

In Oregon, we recycled 1.4 million tons in 2016, which yielded a reduction of 2.9 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent emissions: That's comparable to taking 690,000 cars off the road!