How recycling works

Close-up of people sorting through recyclable waste at a recycling facility

How does recycling work?

Your recycling helps to turn used products into new items without needing to use up new materials.

But it takes a coordinated effort between local councils, recycling and processing facilities, waste management groups as well as the companies that turn raw recycled materials into new products.

After your recycling is collected by a truck, it’s taken to a sorting facility called a Materials Recovery Facility. Here, your recycling is loaded onto conveyor belts where it’s sorted into categories using a series of high tech machines. The machines cannot sort some items such as bagged recyclables and food scraps. These need to be sorted by hand, which is difficult and time consuming.

Once the recycling is sorted into categories, it is transported to different processing facilities where new products can be made

Paper and cardboard can become new cardboard boxes, recycled aluminium can turn into soft drink cans and plastic can turn up as a new household wheelie bin.

Being careful to recycle every item correctly ensures the recycling process is as efficient as possible. It’s good for the environment and for the sustainability of the Victorian community.

Reduce and reuse before you recycle

Recycling is crucial, but there are two big steps before we recycle – reduce and reuse. The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. It takes a lot of materials and energy to make a new product, including raw, finite natural resources. Let's not make all that effort to dig them up only to put them back into the ground without making the most of them.

Reduce your waste and live sustainably by:

  • buying used goods
  • looking for products that use less packaging
  • buying reusable over disposable items
  • maintaining and repairing products instead of throwing them out
  • borrowing, renting or sharing items that are used infrequently.

What happens to your recycling?

Materials recovery facilities

Once the recycling truck is full, it is taken to a sorting facility called an MRF – or Materials Recovery Facility – such as Visy Recycling. Here your recycling is sorted into different recycling categories. 

High-tech sorting machines

All of the recyclables are loaded onto a conveyor belt, where they begin their long journey through the MRF. The MRF operates using a combination of high-tech sorting machines. The machines cannot sort incorrect items such as bags of rubbish, bagged recyclables and food scraps. These need to be sorted by hand, which is difficult and time consuming. If you put your recycling in plastic bags, it will end up in landfill because it can't be easily sorted and recycled.

Recycling processing facilities

Different machines sort different types of recycling, such as paper, cardboard, steel, aluminium, plastic and glass. The sorted materials are transported to different processing facilities so new products can be made from the recycled materials.

  • Paper and cardboard are pulped and used to make many different products, such as newspapers and sturdy cardboard boxes.
  • Steel and aluminium are melted down and turned into new products like soft drink cans and other containers.
  • Plastics are shredded and turned into a range of items, including polar fleeces and wheelie bins.
  • Glass is melted down and made into glass bottles, and some of it even gets used for making road surfaces.

Recycle right

Being careful to recycle the right items in the correct way will ensure that the recycling process is as efficient as possible. Follow our top five recycling tips to make sure you're doing everything you can to reduce landfill, conserve energy and resources, and minimise greenhouse gases.

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Council waste and recycling

Household paint, batteries and fluorescent lights can be dropped off for free. Check with your local council for details.

Find your council