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Where Do Your Recyclables Go?

  • 11/30/2015 7:24:23 AM
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Ever wonder what happens to that milk jug beyond the bin? Learn what happens to your recyclables | Iowa DNRIf your kids have ever asked what happens to that milk jug after you toss it in the recycling bin - or maybe you're curious yourself - here's what happens beyond the bin.

For most children, recycling is second nature. At school and home they learn to place clean recyclables into the recycling bin. In addition to protecting and enhancing our natural resources, recycling provides an exceptional educational opportunity for parents to help children understand what happens beyond the bin.

First, explain where recyclables go. Tell your child that in most communities items are collected at the curb or a community drop box by a truck. The truck hauls items to a materials recovery facility (MRF). Once unloaded, they are sorted by material type using people power and specialized machines.

Once sorted, the glass, cardboard, metals, paper and plastics are sold to manufacturers who use the materials to make new products, including food and beverage containers, paper products and plastic furniture. Pop and water bottles can be spun into fiber to create clothing and carpeting. Log on with your child to watch a video about MRF recycled materials at

If you live in Ames, explain that materials are processed differently by a process called Waste-to-Energy, which burns trash to create electricity. In Ames, trash and recyclables are collected together for use at the Resource Recovery Facility. Once some materials, like glass and metals, are removed, the trash and recyclables are combined with coal and burned to produce electricity for nearby homes and businesses. Emissions coming from the burning are controlled and regulated, and some other traditional recycling options exist, too. The Ames Resource Recovery Facility was the first public Waste-to-Energy facility in the nation. Take an online tour at

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2012 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.

For more on how you can help Iowa's environment, check out our Earth Day Every Day and In Your Own Backyard boards on Pinterest.