Although it's the last of the three Rs, recycling has become a major industry in itself. Recycled materials have now become a part of the processing stream, taking the place of virgin materials in manufacturing. Manufacturing with recycled materials conserves raw materials and reduces energy consumption.
Energy savings add up. It takes 95 percent less energy to produce an aluminum can from recycled aluminum than from bauxite ore. Making a glass bottle from recycled glass uses 40 percent less energy than making one from sand, soda ash, and limestone. Recycled newsprint uses 40 percent less energy than making newsprint from trees, although paper mills get power from scrap wood while most recycling mills rely on conventional power sources.
Recycling cans and bottles started decades ago as container deposits. Before the onset of aluminum cans, people collected glass bottles, returned them to stores, and traded them in for a refund. The bottles would be washed and reused and put back on store shelves. In the 1960s, aluminum became more prevalent; with drink bottles no longer being returned for money, litter began cluttering the roadside. In an effort to reduce pollution, bottle bills were passed in select states to encourage the return of glass and plastic bottles as well as aluminum cans.
Eleven states have active bottle bills. Bottle bills provide an incentive to return bottles and cans rather than dispose of them.
The Container Recycling Institute estimated that in 2005, more than 50 million single-serve plastic bottles were used in the United States and that, of those, 40 million ended up in landfills, incinerators, or as road-side litter. The organization works to educate policymakers with information just like this in an effort to illustrate the environmental impact from plastic bottles and encourage recycling legislation.
The recycling loop includes three steps: collecting recyclable materials, physically recycling the materials, and purchasing items made from recycled materials. As a first step, many communities have set up curbside recycling programs in which materials like newspaper, plastic, and glass are collected in containers separate from waste. It is simple to recycle in your own home. Keep the recycling containers in a convenient location, possibly in or close to the kitchen. You may not be consistent early on, but eventually recycling will become a habit that you incorporate into everyday tasks.
Some towns and cities that don't offer curbside pickup have recycling facilities where residents can drop off recyclable materials free of charge. Separating the recyclables is one of the most important factors when it comes to making recycling economical. Many facilities require that paper and cardboard be separated, but others allow recyclables to be mixed. In this case, workers and equipment separate the glass, plastic, and metals. Bottles are poured onto a conveyor belt where machines sort materials based on different properties such as density or color, or employees can hand-sort, pulling out green, brown, and clear glass bottles. Magnets are used to pick out any steel. After everything is sorted, it's compacted and baled and ready for sale.
Know your recycled products. A lot of merchandise is made from recycled materials. Sometimes the information is stated on the product. If you're not sure, ask a salesperson if the product you're looking to purchase contains recycled materials. Common products with recycled content include paper towels, carpeting, egg cartons, and motor oil.