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Waste Free Wednesday - What happens to your plastic?


Find out how the plastic we collect is recycled


What happens to the plastic you recycle?

The types of plastic collected by each district within Gloucestershire varies slightly.  The process in which the plastic is dealt with however, is generally a standard. When plastic enters the recycling stream, either through kerbside collections or bring banks, the process is as follows:

Step 1: Plastic is sorted into different plastic types. This is the little number in the triangle on the bottom of your bottle or tray.  It represents they type of plastic that the item is made from.  This is done either by hand or using machines that come with infrared, X-ray or other cutting-edge sensors that can recognise a polymer’s unique signature.

Step 2: Plastic is shredded into cornflake like pieces, making it easier to handle. This means it takes up less space when being transported as there is less air contained within the load.

Step 3: Plastic is washed to remove any contamination, whether that is glue, paper or residue from whatever was inside the container. At this point, plastics can also be sorted by weight and its ability to float.

Step 4: Plastic can then be differentiated based on air classification, which basically means that thinner materials are filtered from thick ones.  Apart from size and shape, plastic can also be separated by other features.  Heat can be applied to plastic to separate materials by melting point, whilst fluorescent or ultraviolet light helps to divide them according to colour, or their ability to absorb light.

Step 5: The last step is turning the plastic flakes into pellets. This is done using a process called compounding where the plastic is made into pellets that are high quality and reusable materials, ready to be distributed and made into something new.

To find out more about exactly what happens to your recycling, based on where you live, visit your local authority's website:

Cheltenham Borough Council

Cotswold District Council

Forest of Dean District Council

Gloucester City Council

Stroud District Council

Tewkesbury Borough Council

For more information on different types of plastic, why not have a look at the following websites:

Recycle More

Recycle Now


Help us improve Gloucestershire Recycles

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