When you think about recycling, you might envision sorting your recyclables into different bins and placing them on the curb for pick-up. But what happens to your recyclables after they're picked up? And what are they actually used for?
Recycling is the process of turning waste materials into new, reusable products. In short, it's the act of giving new life to old items that would otherwise be considered trash. Recycling not only reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills, but also conserves natural resources, saves energy, and supports the creation of jobs in the recycling industry.
The recycling process begins with sorting. Recyclables are sorted by type and material, such as glass, plastic, paper, or metal. Once sorted, the recyclables are cleaned and processed into new materials that can be used to make products like packaging, construction materials, and more. For instance, copper recycling might involve melting down old copper wires to create new copper pipes. The more we can reuse and recycle materials, the less we have to rely on new, virgin materials that come from our planet's finite resources.
After you place your recyclables in the proper bin and they're picked up by your local waste management company, they are taken to a materials recovery facility (MRF). At the MRF, workers sort through the recyclables again to ensure they are properly sorted. The sorted recyclables are then sold to companies that use them to create new products. Some recycled materials are sold to innovative companies that have pioneered new ways to recycle and upcycle materials into new products, like clothing made from recycled plastic bottles.
Now that you know a little more about how recycling works, you might be wondering why it's so important. The first reason is to conserve natural resources. Every time we recycle materials, we're giving new life to items that would otherwise end up in a landfill. This reduces our need to mine, drill, and log for new virgin materials, which conserves our natural resources.
Another reason to recycle is to save energy. For example, recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy it would take to create new aluminum cans from scratch. In addition, recycling paper saves trees, water, and energy. Recycling just one ton of paper can save enough energy to power the average American home for six months.
Finally, recycling supports jobs in the green economy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 1 million jobs in the United States that are directly related to recycling and reuse. These jobs range from sorting and collecting recyclables to manufacturing new products from recycled materials.
Now that you know a little more about recycling, you can see why it's so important. The next time you're about to throw something away, think about whether or not it could be recycled. You might be surprised at just how many things can be given new life through recycling.