Primary, Secondary And Tertiary Recycling Explained


For most of businesses and individuals, recycling is just recycling. We aren’t all aware of the different types of recycling, or even what happens to our waste once it heads into recycling equipment. There are various recycling processes which take place and these are known as primary, secondary, and tertiary recycling.

To make sure you are clued in on what happens after your rubbish goes into used recycling machinery, our experts have put together this handy guide.

Primary Recycling

Primary recycling is all about reuse. Rather than sending your items to recycling equipment, you either reuse it yourself or donate it to someone who will. Primary recycling ensures your items get used over and over again, continuing to be used for their intended purpose. Not only is this obviously beneficial for the environment, but it also helps to prevent recycling machinery from becoming overwhelmed, and keeps recyclable materials out of landfills.

Secondary Recycling

Secondary recycling is when you repurpose your recyclable materials for a new use, or give them to someone else who’ll find a new use for them. As with primary recycling, secondary recycling is a much more environmentally friendly option, and helps to avoid the possibility of recyclable items ending up in a landfill.

Tertiary Recycling

Before we get into tertiary recycling, we should take a brief look at the three different recycling types: mechanical, energy, and chemical:

  • Mechanical Recycling: Mechanical recycling is the most common form of recycling, which takes an item and uses recycling machinery to turn it into something new. Plastic bottles are a perfect example of this; everyday millions of plastic bottles are broken down and turned into other items, and other items turned into plastic bottles.
  • Energy Recycling: Energy recycling is when plastic items are broken down and the resulting gasses are used for energy. Burned plastics create a lot of emissions though, so energy recycling isn’t as prolific as it once was.
  • Chemical Recycling: Chemical recycling is where materials are returned to their raw, original form. From there, manufacturers can start over and create something new.

These three different types of recycling are all examples tertiary recycling, which is what happens when you send your recycling away to a recycling facility. Different materials will be recycled in different ways, although all get melted down or crushed in the end. Glass, for example, gets broken down into smaller pieces before being melted down further to be reused. Plastics are often shredded before being melted, along with metals too. All materials need to be broken down using recycling equipment before tertiary recycling can occur.

As you can imagine, tertiary recycling doesn’t really work if you are not recycling correctly. It’s integral that you recycle properly and efficiently, and don’t fall faul to the common problem of wishcycling.

Are you looking for new or used recycling machinery? WRT have all the recycling equipment solutions you’ll need. Why not check out our website? And get in touch for a one-on-one with a member of our friendly customer service team.