HOW RECYCLING WORKS
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How does recycling work?
With all the talk going around about being
environmentally friendly and going green, we have all heard at one point or
another the term ‘recycling.’ And while to us it may just seem like throwing pop
cans into a recycling box, recycling is a very important part of our world.
Recycling is a very simple concept. It can be as easy as turning an old cereal
box into a magazine holder or turning an old hubcap into a birdbath. Whenever
something has been used for one thing and then turned into something else, this
is recycling. However, on an industrial scale, recycling can become much bigger
and much more complex. On a much larger level, recycling consists of taking old
materials, turning them back into their raw form, and then producing them to be
something else. Aluminum cans, plastic, cardboard, and paper are all things that
many households recycle every day. But there are other materials such as steel
and even cell phones that can be recycled!
Every time something is recycled, it naturally
becomes weaker than it was when it was new. Recycled paper for instance contains
residual ink and the fibers are also smaller, which makes it weaker than new
paper that is made from the pulp of wood. It’s for this reason that sometimes
recycled paper can’t be used in photocopiers. When a recycled product is not as
strong as the original, it’s known as down-cycling. Sometimes though, things can
actually be recycled to be made stronger or more valuable than it once was. This
can happen when things such as old tin cans and newspapers are reconstructed to
make a beautiful piece of art or furniture. In this case, these items are known
as being up-cycled.
The History of Recycling
recycling may seem like a new concept or trend to many of us, it’s actually
something that has been around for centuries. Before recycling became the
concept that we all know of today, people would recycle just about everything.
This was because before the industrial age, it was simply too expensive to
always be buying and using new things. Because of this, people were always
looking for ways to use what they already had. In short, they were always trying
to find ways to save money by recycling. And even though there were no community
programs, or city government trucks that came to pick up the recycling, they did
it in way that hit much closer to home.
The industrial age did many great things for the
world. It also greatly contributed to the need for the world to start recycling.
The industrial age allowed the world to start manufacturing and buying goods
very cheaply. Because of this, people of the world started using things and
simply tossing them away when they were finished with them. There no longer
seemed to be a reason to find new uses for things and so, waste became much more
of a problem. However, after the Great Depression hit, people once again started
recycling again because they could no longer afford to buy new things. Then in
the 1940s materials such as rubber, nylon, and metal started to be recycled and
in some cases rationed so that different countries could get through the war.
Once again however, this trend of recycling didn’t
last for very long. After the war, there was an incredible economic upswing and
once again, people could afford to manufacture, buy, and waste in a continuous
cycle. This cycle went on until April 22, 1970, when the first Earth Day was
commemorated. This seemed to put people back into the spin of recycling and
trying to find new uses for old things. After the first Earth Day, people did
seem to become more aware of the importance of recycling. However, in an age
where things could still be consumed faster than people could buy them it
seemed, recycling was not a concept that picked up right away. However, ever
since that first Earth Day in 1970, the trend of recycling has increased
marginally every year. Today, most households in the Western world have at least
one recycling box in their home, if not three or four of them.
When we consider why recycling is important, we
might think that it’s simply to reduce the amount of garbage that surrounds us.
That is definitely one of the biggest reasons why recycling is so important. But
there are many others that most of us don’t even consider when we toss a can
into the recycling box. Here are the biggest benefits that recycling holds.
Because reducing the amount of garbage is the biggest benefit to recycling,
we’ll look at this one first. Reducing the amount of garbage we have is
important because it reduces the amount of space that landfills use. Landfills
are very large areas of land where garbage is thrown once it’s taken away from
our homes. In the 1980s there were approximately 150 million tons of garbage
that were sent to landfills in the United States. And today we haven’t gotten
much better with approximately 100 million tons of garbage going to landfills
around the country. However, the structure of landfills has significantly
changed. Where once, ‘dumps’ used to be open areas of land where garbage would
be thrown, today they are much better controlled and much cleaner and safer. But
still, no one likes living next to a landfill and where space is abundant, using
it for a landfill isn’t a very good idea either.
But landfills don’t only take up a lot of space;
they can also be quite hazardous. Of all the garbage that is thrown into
landfills, a lot of it is toxic chemicals. And even when toxins are being thrown
out directly, the decomposing garbage emits toxins. These toxins are known as
leachate. Leachate on its own creates a huge amount of pollution. And this
particular kind of pollution can be extremely dangerous. Leachate can seep into
the ground, which contaminates ground water and the many supplies that
groundwater uses. There’s not nearly as much leachate being leaked into the
ground today than there once was thanks to the introduction of clay caps and
plastic sheeting. But there is still a small amount of leachate that’s leaked
into the ground because of landfills. And any amount of leachate is too much.
Recycling helps this problem by taking the waste out of the landfill and into
Of course, besides just saving the landfills from
garbage, there’s also the matter of using renewable resources that recycling
helps with. Even though things such as paper and cardboard are renewable
resources, meaning that they can be reproduced over and over again, using new
materials all the time causes a severe depletion in what resources we have.
Conserving these resources helps to ensure that we will have resources in the
future when we most need them, and that our future generations will to.
In some cases, recycling can also consume less
energy, although it greatly depends on which materials you’re referring to.
Steel is one material that uses much less energy to recycle than it does to
produce new. However, certain types of plastic are very cheap to make from new
materials and in these instances, recycling may actually more energy than
manufacturing new. However, it cannot be denied that recycling helps the economy
and can actually cut costs. This is because when municipal governments don’t
need to factor in large landfills into their budgets, they can save millions of
dollars every year. And with the introduction of recycling centers and recycling
pick-up, recycling can also help to create more jobs.
What Exactly Can be Recycled? And how does it all happen?
There are many different materials that can be
recycled. But each material cannot be recycled the same way. And in some
instances, the same materials can’t even be recycled the same way. Here we’ll
look at the different materials that can be recycled, and we’ll also look at
just how that happens.
Paper is one of the most common materials to be
recycled. Once recycled paper is collected, it is then sorted into different
weights, different types, heaviness, the uses it has, color, and whether or not
it’s already been recycled. The water will then be soaked with hot water and
chemicals until it starts to resemble the consistency of soup. The paper then
goes through a process that involves filters, magnets, and gravity to remove any
unwanted items in the paper such as paper clips and staples. The paper is then
run through another chemical that will remove the ink from the paper, or the ink
can be blown to the surface where it can then be lifted off. The pulp that is
left may be bleached but it’s not always. The paper is then rolled out into a
large flat sheet, pressed, and dried. Once it is completely dried, it is cut
into appropriate paper sizes.
Glass is one of the most valuable materials that can be recycled. This is
because glass nearly always gains in value after it has been recycled. Glass can
be recycled in one of two ways. Some recycling centers simply collect the glass,
clean it, sterilize it, and then reuse it. The other way to recycle glass
involves first separating the glass by color. Doing this prevents the glass from
becoming mottled during the recycling process and taking on the color of other
glass. Once it’s separated, the glass will be ground up into something that is
just a bit coarser than a powder. It is then sifted and filtered using magnets
and lasers and melted down. Once it’s completely melted, it can then be made
into new glass.
Steel is also very valuable to recycle because it
can save so much money and reduce resources that are used. Steel is also one of
the easiest materials to recycle because it only involves giant machines that
rip apart things like junk cars and steel from building construction. In the
United States it’s actually law that all steel consists of 25% recycled steel.
Once scrap steel is torn apart by the huge machines, it is also melted down and
turned into giant sheets or coils. After that it is then distributed to
Plastic material is one of the biggest issues that
recycling faces. Plastic is in no way biodegradable and it is very cheap to
make, meaning that lots of manufacturers use it and even more people buy it.
Plastic is almost always made into something new when it is recycled. First it
is sorted into different types and colors and then it is filtered and sifted to
get rid of any contaminants that might be present. Once the plastic has been
sifted, it is then cut up very finely and melted into small beads or they are
stretched out into fibers. These fibers can then be used to make fleece,
construction materials, molded furniture, or insulation.
Aluminum cans are some of the materials that do
actually save a lot of money when they are recycled rather than buying new.
Recycling an aluminum can is 95% cheaper than making a new one. Plus, new
bauxite, the mineral found in aluminum, also doesn’t need to be mined. After
aluminum cans are recycled, they are cut up and heated so that the paint on the
cans can be removed. The pieces are melted in a huge furnace and mixed together.
After that they are treated, they are then made into flat sheets, which are then
turned into new aluminum cans.
There are three main ways that recycling is
collected. One is the most common form that we all think of when we consider
recycling and that is when it’s picked up at the curb. Large trucks just like
garbage trucks pick up recycling boxes and throw them into various compartments
in the truck. Sometimes the men on the truck will do a quick sort of the
material but often this is left to the homeowner. Some communities also have
drop-off centers where the homeowners can take things to be recycled. Some
recycling centers are set up for all recyclable goods but they’re more common
for hazardous items that need to be recycled such as propane tanks or paint
cans. There are other kinds of drop-off centers that are more popular. These are
known as buy-back centers and will pay individuals a certain amount of money for
every recyclable that’s brought to them. How that works is that the individual
pays a deposit when they initially purchase the product and when they return the
recyclables to the buy-back center, the center will give them their deposit
Recycling certainly has come a long way since the
1970s but there’s still a long way to go. The United States recycles on average
30% of their consumer goods every year. And while that may seem impressive,
consider that countries such as Germany and Sweden have a recycling rate of 60%
and you can see that there is still a long way to go in many parts of the world.
And for third-world and developing countries, that might need recycling the
most, it’s almost nonexistent.