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The international symbol for recycling.
The international symbol for recycling.
Environmental science
Environmental technology
  • Recycling
  • Remediation
  • Sewage treatment
  • Water purification
  • Waste management
  • Energy conservation
  • Renewable energy
  • Conservation biology
  • Conservation ethic
  • Preservation
Recycling is the collection of used materials that would otherwise be waste to be broken down and remade into new products. Similarly, reuse is collecting waste such as food and drink containers to be cleaned, refilled and resold. Motivations for recycling include environmental sustainability and business economics: sustainability because the reused material both prevents waste and reduces the consumption of new raw materials, and economics because it can be cheaper to produce new products from reused or recycled materials. An extensive variety of waste is recyclable, and commonly recycled materials include glass, paper, aluminum, asphalt, and steel. These materials can be derived either from pre-consumer waste (materials used in manufacturing) or post-consumer waste (materials discarded by the consumer).

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Overview - Contents

Sorted household plastic waiting to be hauled away for reprocessing in New York City.
Sorted household plastic waiting to be hauled away for reprocessing in New York City.
Many manufactured products are not readily biodegradable and take up space in landfills or must be incinerated. Recycling is an alternative to this. In theory, recycling would allow a continuing reuse of materials for the same purpose. In practice, recycling most often extends the useful life of a material, but in a less-versatile form. For example, when paper is recycled, the fibers shorten, making it less useful for high grade papers. Other materials can suffer from contamination, making them unsuitable for food packaging.Consumer recycling has succeeded mostly in reducing industrial consumption of energy and water. Production of materials such as aluminum or glass requires large amounts of electricity or fossil fuels. The recycling of such materials is profitable and prevents a substantial amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Skeptics believe that, with the exception of aluminum cans, recycling is wasteful. In particular, the market for recycled materials is limited, and using recycled materials may be more expensive for manufacturers than new raw materials. However, recycling becomes relatively cheaper when externalities associated with raw material extraction and landfill (or incineration) are included, especially environmental and health effects. Recycling may still be socially efficient even when carried out at a financial loss - although an alternative to avoid this would be to tax raw material use appropriately so that prices fully reflect all the costs involved, instead of subsidising recycling.Of the 24 OECD-countries where figures were available, only 16% of household waste was recycled in 2002.

US issues

State support for recycling may be more expensive than alternatives such as landfill; recycling efforts in New York City in the USA cost million per year.1 Enviromentalists argue that the benefits to society from recycling compensate for any difference in cost.A number of U.S. states, such as California, Hawaii, Oregon, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Iowa, Michigan and New York have passed laws that establish deposits or refund values on beverage containers in order to promote recycling. Most are 5 cents per can or bottle. Michigan's deposit is 10 cents.
A neighbourhood recycling station in Oxford, England.
A neighbourhood recycling station in Oxford, England.
A recycling center in Santa Monica, California, USA.
A recycling center in Santa Monica, California, USA.

One form of recycling is the reuse of goods, especially bottles. Reuse is distinguished from most forms of recycling, where the good is reduced to a raw material and used in the making of a new good (example: crushing of bottles to make glass for new bottles). Refillable bottles are used extensively in many European countries; for example in Denmark, 98% of bottles are refillable, and 98% of those are returned by consumers. [1] These systems are typically supported by deposit laws and other regulations.In some developing nations like India, concerns over the cost factor often force manufacturers to use refilled glass bottles for selling cola and other drinks, thus creating a reuse process inadvertently. India also has a way of reusing old newspapers: "Kabadiwalas" buy these from the readers for scrap value and reuse them in packaging or in recycling plants. These scrap intermediaries also help in disposing other articles and metals from the consumers and is a lucrative business for the resellers.In the former East Germany, organic household waste was collected and used as fodder for pigs. This integrated system was made possible by the state's control of agriculture; the complexities of continuing it in a market economy after German reunification meant the system had to be discontinued. Organic household waste is still collected separately in some towns in Germany, and may be used for fertiliser or landfilled in more sensitive locations where other waste cannot be.In North America, organic household waste, especially yard waste such as leaves on a seasonal basis, is often collected and heaped up to form compost.

History - Contents

Recycling and rubbish bin in a German railway station or Deutsche Bahn.
Recycling and rubbish bin in a German railway station or Deutsche Bahn.
Recycling is generally at its peak during wartimes or energy shortages. Massive government promotion campaigns were carried out in World War II in every country involved in the war, urging citizens to conserve metals and fiber. These resource conservation programs established during the war were continued in some natural resource-poor countries, such as Japan, after the war ended.In the USA, the next big investment in recycling occurred in the 1970s, due to rises in energy costs (recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the energy required by virgin production; glass, paper and metals have less dramatic but very significant energy savings when recycled feedstock is used). The passage of the Clean Water Act in the USA created strong demand for bleached paper (office paper whose fiber has already been bleached white increased in value as water effluent became more expensive).On September 17, 1981, the first ever blue box recycling program was launched in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. Today, more than 90% of Ontario households have access to recycling programs and annually they divert more than 650,000 tonnes (1 tonne = 2,200 pounds) of secondary resource materials. The "blue box" program has expanded in various forms throughout Canada and to countries around the world such as United Kingdom, France and Australia, serving more than 40 million households in countries around the world.The modern recycling movement, associated with avoided solid waste disposal costs in the United States, began in 1987 when a barge called the Mobro 4000, containing a little over 3,000 tons of garbage departed from Islip, New York to deposit its load of garbage in Morehead City, North Carolina. However, before it reached its destination, rumors that it contained medical waste caused officials at Morehead City to deny the barge permission to unload its garbage. As a result, the barge traveled down the East coast of the United States searching for a place to unload, eventually being denied in Mexico and Belize. The barge finally returned to Islip, where the trash was incinerated after a brief legal battle. The barge's journey became a small media event in 1987 which culminated in some environmentalists claiming that the United States had run out of landfill space, if it had no room for one single barge. Although scientists and the public disagreed then, and still disagree with this claim, the modern recycling movement had begun. [2] [3] [4]
A recycling and rubbish bin in a Berlin public-transport station
A recycling and rubbish bin in a Berlin public-transport station
Another major event that initiated recycling efforts occurred in 1989 when the city of Berkeley, California, banned the use of polystyrene packaging for keeping McDonald's hamburgers warm. One effect of this ban was to raise the ire of management at Dow Chemical, the world’s largest manufacturer of Polystyrene, which led to the first major efforts to show that plastics can be recycled. By 1999, there were 1,677 companies in the USA alone involved in the post-consumer plastics recycling business.
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