Connecting Environment, Economy, and Community

Recycling 101


Recycling 101

How Does it Work?

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.

Your Commitment

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.

  • Before you begin to recycle, consider first reducing, which saves even more energy.
  • Avoid heavily packaged items and reduce your use of products which not only create environmental waste, but are bad for you, such as soda pop.
  • Don’t forget to create a compost pile in your yard, where you can recycle most foods (except meat and dairy) and yard waste, which contribute significantly to landfills.

Purchasing Power

Creating a strong market for recycled products is key to completing the recycling process or “closing the loop.” Consumers close the loop when they purchase products made from recycled materials. Products made from recycled paper, glass, and plastics save 40 percent or more of the energy used to create products from virgin materials.

Identifying Recycled-Content Products

Product labels can be confusing to consumers interested in buying recycled because of the different recycling terminology used. The following definitions might help clarify any uncertainty regarding manufacturers’ claims. For more detailed guidance, view a summary of the Federal Trade Commission’s brochure Sorting Out Green Advertising Claims or their Official Guidance for the use of environmental marketing claims.

 

Recycled-content products

RC_water bottleMade from materials that would otherwise have been discarded. Items in this category are made totally or partially from material destined for disposal or recovered from industrial activities—like aluminum soda cans or newspaper. Recycled-content products also can be items that are rebuilt or remanufactured from used products such as toner cartridges or computers.

Post-consumer content

RC_Green_Shopping_BagRefers to material from products that were used by consumers or businesses and would otherwise be discarded as waste. If a product is labeled “recycled content,” the rest of the product material might have come from excess or damaged items generated during normal manufacturing processes—not collected through a local recycling program.

Recyclable products

RC_Girl_Recycling_Plastic_BottlesCan be collected and re-manufactured into new products after they’ve been used. These products do not necessarily contain recycled materials and only benefit the environment if people recycle them after use. Check with your local recycling program to determine which items are recyclable in your community.

 

Recycled Products Shopping List

The following product directories and databases provide a more comprehensive list of products and manufacturers.

There are more than 4,500 recycled-content products available, and this number continues to grow. In fact, many of the products we regularly purchase contain recycled-content. The following list presents just a sampling of products that can be made with recycled content:

  • Aluminum cans
  • Car bumpers
  • Carpeting
  • Cereal boxes
  • Comic books
  • Egg cartons
  • Glass containers
  • Laundry detergent bottles
  • Motor oil
  • Nails
  • Newspapers
  • Paper towels
  • Steel products
  • Trash bags

Sources: Earth911, Environmental Protection Agency