Once a new idea, recycling is now a way of life for most of us. But, do you know how it really works? And what happens to all those items you carefully separate from your trash and put out by the curb? Welcome to Recycling 101.
You’ve already learned about how we make all of our 100% recycled glassware. Soda bottles are salvaged from landfills and broken down, then melted and hand-blown to create each unique piece. But when you recycle other glass or plastics, papers, or other materials, they go through a lot more before they are reborn.
According to the EPA, typical recycling processes are made up of three steps that create a continuous cycle—this is what inspired the recognizable 3-arrow recycling symbol!
The first step in this process is collection. Many places have instituted curbside collection to simplify the recycling process and encourage people to recycle as much as possible. Other methods of collection include designated locations where recyclables must be dropped off and deposit programs where recyclers are given a refund for their bottles and cans. After collection the materials are sorted and cleaned at a processing facility. These facilities separate the items, and transform them into material that can be used for manufacturing. This is the “death” of your old bottle or box that is the first step towards its rebirth.
Once broken down into reusable materials, your recycled items become a hot commodity. Just like any other raw material, recyclables are bought and sold and the market can fluctuate based on demand. The more we recycle, the more recycled material there is available and (hopefully!) the lower the cost of good made from recycled materials. By recycling you can not only help protect the environment, you can potentially help yourself save money in the future.
Step 2 of the lifecycle of recycling is the manufacturing process. That material you provided with your recycling is used in a variety of ways, which are constantly evolving. Continued innovation in the use of recycled materials means you can buy items like our rugs made from recycled paper and outdoor furniture made from recycled plastics.
Finally, step 3 is where you rejoin the process and restart the cycle by buying items made from recycled materials. Per the EPA, the best products are those that can be easily recycled again and those that contain recycled content. An item that says it contains “recycled content” is made from materials either gathered via recycling programs or from post-production materials from normal manufacturing. An item made with “post-consumer content” is made with material sourced only from recyclables collected from consumers or businesses. This is where you could technically be buying something made from an item you recycled!
Now, go back to step 1 and repeat. The more items you can put in your recycling bin each week, the more material available and the more products you’ll be able to buy that are made from recycled materials. There are few actions you can take that have a more direct impact on the planet than recycling, so make sure you’re part of the cycle.