"Recycling is the process of taking a product at the end of its useful life and using all or part of it to make another product. The internationally recognized symbol for recycling includes three arrows moving in a triangle. Each arrow represents a different part of the recycling process, from collection to re-manufacture to resale."
Like many other Americans, you collect and sort items that can be recycled. That's good, because you can help your community reduce the amount of garbage going to the landfill. But putting items out for collection or dropping them off at the local center is only the first of three steps in the recycling process. It may surprise you to learn that what you BUY is just as important as saving the things your recycling collection center takes.
To Market, To Market...
Today approximately 21% of our trash is recovered annually for recycling. Where do these millions of pounds of recyclables go after collection? Manufacturers use them to make new products---recycling's second step. The third and final step returns the new products to the marketplace. This step is one that YOU need to support if recycling is to remain part of the solution to the country's garbage issue.
Why Should I Buy Recycled?
You "close the loop" when you buy items or packaging made from recycled materials. They have now come full-circle: from bag or bin to a manufacturer, to the store shelf, and back to your home. And after using the item, you can start the loop again by saving it for the local recycling program. When you buy recycled, markets are created and a use is assured for recyclables being collected in your community and in thousands of others. Manufacturers will respond by continuing to use recyclables in their products.
Without informed consumers and a ready market for products made of recycled materials, local recycling programs will become more costly and fewer recyclables may be collected and processed. More reusable material will end up in landfills, and communities will need to deal with an increased amount of garbage.
How Do I Find Them?
Products and packaging made form recycled material are everywhere - in stores that sell groceries, office supplies, auto parts, and everything in between. Recyclables are transformed into an amazing variety of new products. Plastic mild jugs return to yards and parks as plastic lumber and picnic tables. Steel food cans return to the hardware store as nails and screws. Newspapers become egg cartons. There's no limit to the things that can be made from recyclables.
Many products are identified recycled or partially recycled on the label or on the product itself. Others may contain recycled material but may not be identified. For instance, there's a good chance that the glass containers, aluminum and steel cans, paperboard boxes and plastic detergent bottles you buy are made of some recycled material.
Some products and packaging also have labels describing the amount of "pre-consumer" and "post-consumer" waste that was used. "Pre-consumer" waste is also known as "manufacturing waste" and includes any scraps, trimmings, over-runs, etc., from the manufacturing process. "Post-consumer" waste is a product or other material that has served its intended use and has been discarded and then collected for recycling.
Many Happy Returns
Here are just a few examples of new products made from recyclables:
- Steel food cans - appliances, auto parts, construction beams.
- Aluminum cans - new soda cans, siding for your house.
- Paper - new writing and office papers, building insulation, packaging.
- Plastic bottles and milk jugs - plant pots, plastic lumber, can liners, lawn furniture
- Glass containers - new glass packaging, decorative tiles, paving materials
But what does all this have to do with you? Well, recycling is a simple way that you, as a consumer, can help out the environment, create a profitable market for recycled goods and help preserve natural resources from being depleted. So... let's get involved!
Recycling reduces our waste sent to landfills. Also, making new products out of recycled ones reduces the amount of energy needed in production. The U.S. EPA estimates that 75 percent of our waste is recyclable, which goes well beyond what you toss in your recycling bin at home or at school.
Recycling serves two key purposes:
- It keeps valuable materials, such as aluminum and paper, out of landfills so this material can be reused in other forms and not wasted.
- It prevents hazardous materials and chemicals, such as lead and mercury, from ending up in landfills, where they can contaminate soil and leach into our drinking water.
Because of hazardous risks associated with our trash, it's important to recycle your products - including those you may not initially think of recycling. This includes batteries, electronics, motor oil, paint and any product that has "Caution" or "Warning" on the label.