Recycling is a good thing. It’s always better to reuse than than to toss it straight into the landfill. But like most issues, when you dig into the details, the benefits of recycling are a bit more complicated. So how effective are your recycling efforts? We let you know how many times various materials can be recycled so you can choose the best material for your next purchase. We’ve also got a fun toy from the EPA that tells how much energy you save each time you recycle!
How Many Times Can That Be Recycled?
We are often asked why we chose to use aluminum bottles instead of plastic ones. Can’t they both be recycled? Well, the truth is some materials can be recycled over and over again, but others can only be recycled so many times before they are downcycled. Here’s a list from RecycleNation.com of the most common types of recyclable materials and how many times they can be recycled:
Plastic – Once or Twice
Believe it or not, most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they are downcycled. Downcycled means they are recycled into something of a lesser value. Plastic is often downcycled to create clothing, fleece, or even lumber. It is much more energy efficient to downcycle plastic and create these items than it is to use all new materials to create them. However, the items that are created usually cannot be recycled. So, if plastic is downcycled to create a fleece sweater, that sweater may eventually end up in a landfill somewhere when the owner no longer wants it.
Aluminum – Infinite
Aluminum is one of the most valuable recyclable materials because there is no limit to how many times it can be recycled. There is no quality loss each time it is recycled. This means the aluminum cans that you drink soda from can be recycled over and over again without degrading. In fact, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of all the aluminum that has ever been produced is still being used today. Because aluminum recycling is so wide spread, recycled aluminum soft drink cans transform into new cans in as little as 60 days
Paper – Five to Seven
Paper consists of long fibers that become shorter and shorter every time it is recycled. The shorter the fibers become, the harder it is to recycle the paper. This means paper can usually only be recycled about five to seven times. After it has been recycled five to seven times, the fibers are typically too short to be recycled again. Instead, the material is turned into paper paste and used to create items such as newspapers or egg cartons.
Glass – Infinite
Recycling glass is 33% more energy efficient than creating glass using new materials. Like aluminum, glass can be recycled over and over again without degrading. So you should never feel guilty about buying glass items as long as you take the time to recycle them. Be sure that you contact your local recycling center to find out what types of glass they process. There are several different types of glass and some of them require special processing, so it’s important to figure out which types your recycling center accepts.
Metal – Infinite
Metals can be recycled time and time again without degrading. If everyone were to recycle metal, we could greatly reduce the demand for new materials that need to be mined from the earth. For example, steel is one type of metal that consists primarily of mined ore. By recycling one ton of steel, we can prevent the mining of 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone.
How much Energy are you Saving by Recycling?
Recycling everyday objects, such as paper, bottles, and magazines saves energy. The materials that are recycled are used to create the products you buy. This means less virgin material needs to be mined or harvested, processed, manufactured, and transported—all of which consume energy.
The EPA used data from the iWARM model to create this interactive chart. Just choose a recyclable (aluminum can, glass bottle, plastic bottle, weekly magazine and a plastic grocery bag). Then choose an appliance (air conditioner, hair dryer, laptop computer and 60W equivalent compact fluorescent light bulb or CFL). The chart will tell you how long that appliance can be powered for by recycling the material chosen.