Recycling is the process of collecting different waste materials and transforming the back into raw materials. Those raw materials can then be processed into new products. The amazing magic of turning trash into useful products is what made recycling so popular to begin with. Imagine this: the first documented use of recycling dates back to 1031 when Japan began reusing waste paper. Pretty amazing, right?
Recycling means creating less waste and using less raw materials for the creation of products hence why it’s so beneficial for the environment.
The recycling process can happen in three different ways, but they all have three very important steps in common:
1. Collect and separate recyclable materials from waste.
2. Apply one of the three known procedures (detailed below) to the residue and revert it into raw material.
3. Turn those raw material into a finished product again.
Recyclable materials can be turned into new products in three different ways:
1. Mechanical Recycling – Mechanical recycling is the most commonly used method to recycle plastic materials. By running them through a machine, plastics are cleaned, dried, ground, separated, and compounded. This allows the plastic to be reformed into something else so that it can be used again, as it leaves the polymers largely unaffected and functional for future use. This is the primary form of recycling and the one that you probably picture when thinking of a recycling facility.
2. Energy Recycling – Energy recycling is used mostly in Europe and Japan but is a very environmentally friendly recycling option. It involves converting plastics into thermal and even electric energy by incinerating the plastics and using the heat released as fuel. This may sound harmful to the environment but machines used now are careful to execute this process in the most eco-friendly way possible, with the least environmental impact. However, it is a rather expensive method of recycling and not widely used within the United States.
3. Chemical Recycling – Chemical recycling is the newest form of recycling and the most complicated process. It can be expensive, and is still largely experimental. Through the use of chemicals, plastics are reprocessed and their chemical structure is changed so they can be made into something else and re-used. It has lofty goals, but as this point, chemical recycling still requires more technological advances and resources that aren’t easily available.
Whether it’s mechanical, chemical or energy, recycling is the most environmentally-friendly option we have to treat our waste. It also comes with incredible savings. Recycling one ton of plastic can save: 5,774 kWh of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil and 30 cubic yards of landfill space! Compared to the amount of energy used in the creation of virgin materials, more than 80% of energy in the process is saved. Let’s keep recycling and, at the same time, reduce our waste consumption and utilize reusables for a cleaner world!