What happens in a recycling plant depends on the material that the recycling plant handles. This summary is based on a recycling plant that can handle household recycling as well as small industrial material and recycling that is collected by individuals.
The basic steps are inspection, deposit, separation, processing, and transport.
Not all material can be recycled. Aluminum cans that have been collected from lakes and contain rocky mud will damage the recycling plant equipment. These will be rejected. The plant is also tasked with not taking any material that is suspect to have been stolen.
Some materials cannot be recycled. The recycling plant may have a process to handle such materials and have an environmentally safe method of disposal. In addition, inspection prevents plant workers from being exposed to dangers unnecessarily.
The size of the load determines where the materials will be deposited. Areas of the recycling plant are designated for paper, aluminum, steel, and other materials that arrive in bulk.
Recycling that is brought in by individuals is separated by hand when the person delivers the material to the recycling plant. Small industrial recycling waste is sorted at a weighing station and directed to the proper area of the plant for that material.
Recycling from homes goes through a much more elaborate process. Materials are separated from machines into useable materials and materials that cannot be used. The final inspection must be done by hand.
Paper, aluminum cans, steel cans, electrical wire, motors, and any material that can be recycled are segregated into areas of the recycling plant for holding. Containers are designated for each type of material so that moving large quantities is safe and efficient.
Paper, aluminum cans, steel, plastics, wire, and some electronics are processed with machinery to make the material more compact for shipping. Aluminum cans are shredded into very small pieces and squashed into blocks that can weigh a few tons. Paper is compacted in presses. The idea is to be able to deliver as much material as possible in one vehicle. This makes the recycling plant more profitable.
The compacted material and the materials that cannot be compacted are prepared for shipment. The recycling plant has a contract with a trucking company or with the company that buys the material to transport the recycling to its final destination. Aluminum companies buy the aluminum cans and use them to make new aluminum cans. Paper is reused as well.
What goes on in a recycling plant is a complex and intricate endeavor. The skills required include metallurgy, an understanding of the law, and a high degree of customer relations skills. Mechanics with specialized training are required to work with unique equipment.
You can find a recycling center close to you here.