Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Samuel. Samuel Wonders, “How does anything in the recycle bin become something new” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Samuel!

Look around you. How many objects can you find that are made of plastic? From water bottles to clothing, furniture, and even computers, most homes today are full of items that contain plastic. Unfortunately, so are our oceans, streams, and rivers. 

Environmentalists have warned of the dangers of plastic for decades. It may be an affordable material to make bottles and containers, but plastic costs the planet valuable resources. Made from materials like coal, crude oil, and natural gas, it requires the use of many non-renewable resources.

In 2016, the U.S. alone used about 46.3 million tons of plastic. Worldwide, the total was over 350 million tons. This is a huge increase since 1964, when the world used just 16.5 million tons of plastic. If plastic usage continues to grow, it is expected to double by 2036.

Does your family recycle? If so, you may feel much better about plastic usage. However, very little of the plastic that goes into recycling bins actually makes it through the recycling process. In fact, experts estimate that only around nine percent of plastic is recycled. An estimated 16 percent is burned for electricity or heat. The rest ends up in landfills or bodies of water

How can you make sure the plastics you use are recycled? Begin by making sure the items you put in your recycling bin can actually be recycled. In the U.S. and most places, this only includes two types of plastic: polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Items that have a recycling icon with the number “1” in the center are PET. Those with a “2” are HDPE. 

Plastics with other numbers cannot be recycled. Why not? In most cases, items can’t be used again if they contain more than one type of plastic. That’s because, when the items are melted at the recycling center, the plastics contaminate each other. Instead, these items are sent to a landfill.

How about those plastic bottles that do arrive at a recycling center? First, workers separate the PET items from those made from HDPE. Then, they ensure that each item is clean. Those that aren’t may be thrown away—that’s why it’s important to rinse items before putting them in the recycling bin.

Once the plastics are separated and labels have been removed, they’re shredded. Those shreds are bound together and sold to processors who will use them to make new items. Once at a processing plant, the plastics are melted and then formed into small pellets. These are used to create new items.

What can be made from recycled plastic? One common product is new plastic bottles. Recycled plastic can also be used to make carpet, polyester clothing, and building materials. However, plastic loses a bit of its quality each time it’s recycled. Each piece can only be recycled two or three times before it must be thrown away.

That’s why it’s also important to reduce and reuse plastic. How can your family work to keep plastic out of landfills and bodies of water? Work with an adult family member to form a plan today!

Standards: CCRA.R.4, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.R.10, CCRA.R.1, CCRA.SL.1, CCRA.L.1, CCRA.W.10, CCRA.SL.4, CCRA.L.2, CCRA.R.2, CCRA.SL.2, NCAS.A.1, NCAS.A.2, NCAS.A.3

Wonder What's Next?

Tomorrow’s Wonder of the Day features some of the coolest mountains you’re likely to encounter!