How Does Recycling Work?

We have all heard about recycling and know that reusing our waste instead of letting it go to landfill will benefit our environment. But how does recycling really work? Since we get this question a lot from our customers we are going to do a post about it. So buckle up and get ready for the beauty of recycling your waste!

Recycling is the process of turning (business)waste materials into new materials that can be used for new purposes. Recycling is important because, not only does it prevent the waste of materials it also reduces the amount of new raw materials being used to create certain products.

The most common sources for recycling are glass, cardboard, paper, metal, textiles, plastic, tyres and electronics. Although it may look different, the composting of food and garden waste is also considered to be recycling as it entails the same process. Turning waste materials into new, useful materials.

In a perfect situation, the recycling of a certain material would lead to a new material of the same type. Eg paper would turn into paper. Unfortunately, this is a very expensive process so normally you will see that the type of material changes after it’s being recycled. Paper turns into paperboard for example.

Recycling is not something we’ve been doing only the last few years. There are already signs of recycling as far back as 400 BC! In moments of resource scarcity, archeologists found that piles of household waste were smaller and containing less ashes and pottery indicating the reuse of certain materials. In pre-industrial times in Europe it was common to re melt bronze and other metals into new products after their initial purpose had been served. In Japan there are signs of paper recycling going back to the year 1013!

The recycling market

Going back to the present day we are still recycling but on a much larger scale. In order to recycle successfully it is important that we have a good functioning recycling market. A good market generally consists of 2 important factors. Supply and demand. To achieve a large and steady supply of recyclable materials (supply) there are generally 3 legislative tools being used by our government.

  • Mandatory collection laws: These laws set aims for cities to reach certain recycling targets. The cities themselves are then responsible for reaching these targets.
  • Container deposit legislation: These incentives offer a refund of a certain amount when the used product is to be returned. For example, a small surcharge is made when buying a plastic bottle at a supermarket which is refunded when you bring it back to specific collection points.
  • Refuse bans: Such as bans to dispose oil, batteries, tires or certain types of garden waste without using a special service.

On the other hand we also need a large demand in order to make recycling viable for all the business involved. The government is basically using 4 tools to encourage this.

  • Minimum recycled content mandates: This will force companies to use a minimum amount of recycled materials in their operations.
  • Utilization rates: This looks similar to ‘minimum recycled content’ but is a bit more flexible. Utilization rates allow companies to reach certain types of recycling targets at any time in their operations. They can even acquire tradable credits to meet the target.
  • Procurement policies: Mostly used by governments, these policies set a minimum amount of recycled products used the in the procurement process.
  • Recycled product labelling: This policy makes sure that recycled products are labeled accordingly and hence consumers (with sufficient buying power) can make educated choices to buy products that are better for the environment.

Recycling of business waste

Although most government programs focus on the recycling of domestic waste, 64% of all waste in the UK comes from business waste. Most business waste recycling programs focus on the cost-efficient side of recycling. Among materials, cardboard (used for packaging etc.) is a commonly recycled business waste product by companies that deal heavily in packaged goods. Think of retail stores, warehouses and distributors of goods.

The glass, lumber, wood pulp and paper manufacturers all deal directly in commonly recycled materials.

The amount of metals that’s being recycled is relatively low, however, the military does recycle some metals. For example, the U.S. Navy's Ship Disposal Program uses old vessels and ship breaking to reclaim the steel. On the other hand, ships may also be sunk to create an artificial reef. Uranium is a very dense metal that has qualities superior to lead and titanium for many military and industrial uses. The uranium left over from processing it into nuclear weapons and fuel for nuclear reactors is called depleted uranium, and it is used by all branches of the U.S. military use for armour-piercing shells and shielding.

Some industries, like the renewable energy industry and solar photovoltaic technology, in particular, are being proactive in setting up recycling policies even before there is considerable volume to their waste streams, anticipating future demand during their rapid growth.

Recycling of plastics is more difficult, as most programs are not able to reach the necessary level of quality. Recycling of PVC often results in downcycling of the material, which means only products of lower quality standard can be made with the recycled material.

Process of recycling

So now we know some basic characteristics of the recycling market and which materials are mostly being recycled it’s good to look a bit further into the practical process of recycling. The process that happens after we have collected your business waste for example.

Recycles are mainly collected in 2 ways before they are being sent by a truck to a Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). They can either be already separated into their respective type of recycling waste such as paper or cardboard or they can be put together into one bin (so called mixed recycling).

After the waste is being tipped at the MRF the mixed recycling will be sorted into various types of materials by either, hand, machine or both. The pre-sorted waste will be added straight away to the corresponding materials at the MRF.

Once collected and sorted the materials will become valuable commodities and are to be turned into new products of any sort!

Your turn

You too can participate in the process of recycling your business waste by ordering a DMR (dry mixed recycling) bin for example and start separating your waste. Operating from Leeds, Sheffield, Hull, Portsmouth, Southampton and Kent our sales team would be delighted to offer you a free quote and any additional information about recycling you may have. Prices already start at £7 per bin so you can’t go wrong on that. Good luck!

Lili Waste: Making waste management better.