How does recycling work? Maybe you’re wondering because you’re doing a school project, or maybe you’re a parent and you want some fun facts about recycling to share with your child. Whatever your reason, here are some recycling facts for kids!
Plastic facts for kids: types of plastic
- There are different types of plastic, and they’re recycled into different things. None of them have very catchy names, though. For example:
- The transparent plastic that’s used for most drink bottles is called polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, and it can be turned into carpets or clothes.
- The harder, translucent plastic used for milk or detergent bottles is high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which can be turned into playground equipment or plastic furniture.
- Bottle caps are often made of polypropylene, or PP (don’t laugh), which can be turned into cutting boards or cases for car batteries.
But what actually happens after you throw them away? Well...
More fun facts about recycling for kids
- If you throw a plastic bottle in the household waste, it’ll go to landfill to decompose. You’ll be waiting a long time for it to finish, though; plastic bottles can take about 500 years to break down completely. When your great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren are born, that bottle could still have another 250 years to go. It’s much better to put it in the recycling, so it can be used to make something new instead of lying around doing nothing.
- Clear packaging is easier to recycle than coloured packaging, because the colour can’t be removed. Coloured packaging can still be recycled, but it can’t be used to make white or translucent things. That’s why the colour on most Persil packaging stays on the label; the bottles and tubs themselves are white or clear.
- This means that, during recycling, clear plastic and coloured plastic need to be separated out from each other. But what do you do if colourful labels and bottle caps are still attached to the clear plastic? Once the clear plastic has been shredded, you wash it in water. Most of the bits of cap and label will float to the top and can be skimmed off. They’ll be recycled as well!
- Bits of food and grease can contaminate packaging so it can’t be recycled, and it can get onto other things in the recycling bin and contaminate those, too. You don’t have to wash everything completely clean before you recycle it, but give it a quick rinse and let it dry if there’s still food in there.
- When PET plastic bottles have been melted down at the recycling centre, the melted plastic can be stretched out into polyester threads. Those threads are spun together and woven into cloth. If you have any clothes with ‘polyester’ on the label, some of the fabric might be made from a bottle you once drank out of!
- According to the British Plastics Federation, recycling just one plastic bottle can save enough energy to light a 10W LED bulb for 36 hours. Putting that bottle in the recycling bin really can make a difference.
Recycling’s important, but it’s also interesting. You’ve finished using the things in your recycling bin, but their journey is only just beginning. The next time you’re taking out the recycling, remember these fun facts.