Taking the discarded materials that we throw away into usable, renewable resources requires some very powerful machinery. The recycling industry relies on an assembly of machines that include shredders, pulverizers, compactors, granulators, and balers that grind waste into manageable sizes for further processing. This assembly of machines works together to take a mountain of trash and recycle it into new, usable products like plastics, aluminum, and more.

If you want to set up your own recycling plant, it’s important to understand the different types of equipment that will work best for your project. These devices can make or break your success and help you achieve your goals. To start, determine what types of materials you will be working with and identify the specific machines that can meet your needs.

In the case of plastics, you’ll need a machine that can separate LDPE, HDPE, PET, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET). This type of separation is necessary because these are the most common types of plastic used to produce consumer goods. Fortunately, there are a number of manufacturers that offer these machines. However, the process of separating these different types of plastic can be time-consuming, so you’ll need to invest in the right equipment.

Other recycling machines that are currently being used in cities around the world can also sort your materials by color. These machines use sensors and optical sensors to analyze the colors of your bottles and cans, which helps them differentiate between glass, paper, and plastic. Once the machines have separated your items, they will then put them into bins. You’ll then need to wait for them to fill up, after which you can call the company that operates the machine and request a pickup.

At the plant in Willimantic, three smaller star screens lift out different grades of paper—which makes up two thirds of the recycled material at the site—and roll back down on to the main conveyor belt. Workers positioned along the line then remove other contaminants, such as plastic bags and coat hangers. The rest of the materials continue on to a machine called an air classifier. This chamber blows air around to force lighter plastic and aluminum items up onto another conveyor while heavier glass items fall into a separate bin.

The glass that’s filtered through the machine is then sent to a factory in Connecticut where it’s ground into a coarse sand and sold to glass recyclers. Those same glass recyclers will then melt the sand down and turn it into new molded glass.

Meanwhile, the paper goes into a de-inker—an aerated tank with surfactants and water that separates out inks from cellulose. The inks rise to the top, while the cellulose sinks. This material is then taken by most recycling plants to a paper mill, where it’s turned into new sheets of paper. The process is very labor-intensive, and it takes an incredible amount of energy to get only one pound of cellulose back into paper.