Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting recyclable materials that would otherwise be considered waste, sorting and processing recyclables into raw materials such as fibers, and manufacturing raw materials into new products.
Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting recyclable
materials that would otherwise be considered waste, sorting and
processing recyclables into raw materials such as fibers, and
manufacturing raw materials into new products.
Collecting and processing secondary materials, manufacturing
recycled-content products, and then purchasing recycled products
creates a circle or loop that ensures the overall success and value of
Step 1. Collection and Processing
Collecting recyclables varies from community to community, but there
are four primary methods: curbside, drop-off centers, buy-back centers,
and deposit/refund programs.
Regardless of the method used to collect the recyclables, the next leg
of their journey is usually the same. Recyclables are sent to a
materials recovery facility to be sorted and prepared into marketable
commodities for manufacturing. Recyclables are bought and sold just
like any other commodity, and prices for the materials change and
fluctuate with the market.
Step 2. Manufacturing
Once cleaned and separated, the recyclables are ready to undergo the
second part of the recycling loop. More and more of today's products
are being manufactured with total or partial recycled content. Common
household items that contain recycled materials include newspapers and
paper towels; aluminum, plastic, and glass soft drink containers; steel
cans; and plastic laundry detergent bottles. Recycled materials also
are used in innovative applications such as recovered glass in roadway
asphalt (glassphalt) or recovered plastic in carpeting, park benches,
and pedestrian bridges.
In 1999, recycling and composting activities
prevented about 64 million tons of material from ending up in landfills
and incinerators. Today, this country recycles 32 percent of its waste,
a rate that has almost doubled during the past 15 years.
While recycling has grown in general, recycling of
specific materials has grown even more drastically: 50 percent of all
paper, 34 percent of all plastic soft drink bottles, 45 percent of all
aluminum beer and soft drink cans, 63 percent of all steel packaging,
and 67 percent of all major appliances are now recycled.
Twenty years ago, only one curbside recycling
program existed in the United States, which collected several materials
at the curb. By 2005, almost 9,000 curbside programs had sprouted up
across the nation. As of 2005, about 500 materials recovery facilities
had been established to process the collected materials.
For recycling to work, everyone has to participate in each phase of the
loop. From government and industry, to organizations, small businesses,
and people at home, every American can make recycling a part of their
daily routine. Below are some ways in which businesses, local
governments, and citizens can get involved:
Improve the efficiency of your collection program.
EPA's Getting More for
Less: Improving Collection Efficiency explains several important
strategies for improving efficiency as well as case studies of
communities that have reaped the benefits of improved solid waste
Practice full cost accounting (FCA). Visit the FCA
Web site for more information on using FCA to assist with
and assessing the costs of solid waste management.
Recycle at home. Find out if there is a recycling
program in your community. If so, participate in the program by
separating and putting out your recyclables for curbside pickup or
taking them to your local drop-off or buy-back center.
Shop smarter. Use products in containers that can
be recycled in your community and items that can be repaired or reused.
Also, support recycling markets by buying and using products made from
on the Go! Look for recycling places in
public spaces. If you can't find a recycling place, ask the responsible
authority to look into installing one so you can recycle on the go.