How Recycling Works

Recycling can mean finding a new use for an  old or broken item or completely breaking the item down to reuse its raw materials in the manufacture of a new product. Some recycling methods may actually increase the value of an item, e.g., if it is used to produce a piece of art. However, generally the recycled materials are used to make a product of a similar or lesser quality. For instance, high quality paper may be recycled into copier paper because it contains ink it has absorbed in its previous use.


There are various ways to start an item on its recycling journey. Many local councils have amended their curbside garbage collection to incorporate some form of sorting recyclable items. Sometimes a recycling center may be set up as an extension to the curbside recycling to accept larger or hazardous items from householders. Buy-back centers offering payment for materials are also a form of recycling and are often run as part of a larger retail business. Donating used clothes, toys and books to a charity shop (or buying them) is another way of recycling and also offers the benefit of helping to raise funds for a charity. Finally, some retailers add a deposit to the purchase of a product which is then refunded on the return of the empty container, e.g. a bottle deposit for glass beer bottles. The containers are then returned to the supplier for reuse.


When recyclable materials are collected from the curb they are taken to a sorting center where mechanical and manual systems separate out the different materials. After sorting, the items are sent on to processing companies where they are broken down and manufactured into new products. For some items there is no problem recycling the same materials over and over again for the same purpose, e.g. glass bottles or aluminum cans. This reduces the cost of manufacture and also the energy usage and pollution required to obtain the raw materials, therefore saving up to 95 percent of the energy used to make brand new items.

Criticisms and Alternatives

However, critics point out that in many cases recycling a product into another usable item still requires energy and can create pollution just as the original manufacture does. In some cases, e.g. recycling of plastics, the benefit of recycling is very slight. For many products recycling offers a range of benefits including the reduction of landfill use and consumption of fewer natural resources. It is important to bear in mind that the environmental benefits of reducing consumption and reusing items when possible can make just as much impact as faithfully sorting out all of the recyclable items from the garbage.


The final stage of the recycling process is for someone to actually buy or use the recycled product. All of the other stages of the process would be irrelevant and counter-productive otherwise. It is essential to keep in mind that a recycled product is not necessarily of lower quality than a brand new one.