Recycling is the process by which a waste product is converted into the raw materials for a new product. This process can be either downcycling or upcycling. Downcycling refers to the new product being of lower quality value than what it was originally used for. Usually these secondary products are bound for the dump once they are no longer of use. An example of this is plastic bottles being recycled into park benches. Upcycling on the other hand produces a product of same or equal value to the original waste product. This is a term often refered to as cradle to cradle production. The iconic example of upcyling is the recycling of aluminum for new cans, which saves about 95% of energy compared to producing the cans from raw materials. Upcycling is often incorrectly used to refer to the use of materials such as used innertubes turned into wallets, this is however more correctly downcyling.
 The pros and cons of recycling
- Recycling combined with the other R's lessens the amount of waste headed for the landfill
- Recycling is part of a sustainable solution of waste management
- Using wastes as material is a means to save natural resources. This can be cost-effective, as with glass or aluminium.
- Requires a lot of energy and time sorting and collecting the materials. Many products are not designed for recycling, making it difficult if not impossible for many products to be recycled effectively. This is especially true for plastic products which are often made with many different types of plastics that must be seperated. Juice boxes are another typical example because they are made with plastic carboard and metal layers.
- Many individuals do not actually put recyclable materials into their recycling bin.
- Many materials are not energy efficient enough to be used to produce new materials, this is especially true for plastics. This is why reclycling is the last of the R's. It is important to rethink : Reduce, Reuse, Renew rather than recycle.
- Plants should be found in all areas, which is not always the case.
 Recyclable or recycled
A recyclable material is a material that can technically be recycled. But it first has to be properly sorted out. The consequence is a recyclable object will not always be recycled.
What's more, the logo we find on wrappings showing two intertwined arrows is often confusing : contrary to what most people think, it does not mean the material is recyclable but indicates the manufaturer paid a contribution to an environmental organization for certification (such as the Green Leaf Mark). Thus the local authorities will get this money according to the quantity of collected recyclables.
The main materials that are recyclable are :
Some organizations recycle :
It's easy to recycle objects that are made of one only material (glass, plastic) but the process is much more expensive when there are different compounds as in household appliances, computers...
However recycled materials can be used to produce non-recyclable packaging, which, in itself, is already a good means to manage wastes.
 Recyclable materials
The nature and density of the plastic used is always described on an item. There are numerous types of plastics (about 200), each being specific and having to be recycled accordingly.
Regulations for garbage collecting may defer according to countries or areas but the most common types that are accepted are water and milk bottles as well as flasks because they're made of a type of plastic that's easy to determine and to sort them out manually. Plastic stoppers can be recycled too so you can let them when discarding bottles. There may be doubts about the content especially with cosmetics.
All other plastic items (cling film, trays, dairy containers, toys...) still are to be dumped for lack of better solutions. We must then try and limit these wastes : prefer family rather than individual packages.
 Ferrous and non ferrous metals
In theory all metals are indefinitely recyclable : once smelted, they can be moulded anew. The problem lies in collecting and sorting them because the metal must be pure to be resused ; if different sorts of metals are melted together, the result may be poor quality alloys.
You can take your bulky metal wastes to the dump (otherwise called civic amenity site).
Collection points and local collecting trucks are only meant for wrappings or containers (drink containers, tin cans aluminium trays), not for small items such as aluminium paper or coat hangers. You don't have to wash tin cans if you empty them properly so as not to spoil the other wastes.
Ferrous metals (e.g. steel) are sorted out with magnets at the dump. Metals can also be discarded at incineration plants.
 Paper and cardboard
They're recycled through selective collection, sorted out in landfills, or from collecting bins.
For paper, most of the material comes from newspapers, magazines, advertisments, office papers. Don't forget to take off blisters (plastic films) and other bindings... Don't put soiled paper, kitchen paper and the like... But staples are not a problem.
As for cardboard, it's mostly empty packages (yoghourt packs, boxes of cereals...) or larger containers such as those used for moving. Milk and drinks bricks are often recycled with cardboard.
New paper and toileteries acn be made with these recycled items even if some new material has to be added.
Glass bottles and pots are mostly recycled from collection bins and landfills. Do not dump dishes, bulbs or window panes because the fusion temperature is different.
In Switzerland and Belgium, glass is sorted out by colour (transparent, green, brown), whereas it's not the case in France (thus only green glass can be made from recycled materialmélangées, on ne peut en faire que du verre vert).
Glass dishes can't be redycled, nothing can be done from these.
Tons of food are dumped everyday at supermarkets : fruit and vegetables that don't look perfect, packs of yoghourts when only one pot is marred, things that will be past the shelf life on the morrow, bakers throw away bread and pastry in the evening.
Just have a look at the bins near a market or a supermarket...
They're used to putting disposables in plastic bags not to seperate them from dirty garbage.
If you're lucky enough to have a garden, a container of 30 in. by 20 in. and 40 in. high is enough to collect the wastes of a family of four. You can make compost. Instead of discarding your salad that will require power to be burnt and cost money for being treated, simply let nature have its course. All organic wastes are biodegradable so if you don't make compost, you can dump any organic waste.
 Non recyclables
Some products cannot be recycled.
Some cannot even be incinerated or composted :
- sprays and soap pumps containing a plumb ball
- medicine : pills or capsules in aluminium packs
- aluminium wrapping (chocolate, butter…)
- pots of cream (more difficult to dispose of than tubes)
- earthenware, porcelain, ceramic
When you have a doubt as to what to do with a particular item, you'd better ask the nearest landfill. At worst, put it with your litter because mistakes cost money and can damage sorted items (eg : sauce left in a ready made meal box will spoil papers... .
 Direct recycling
Plenty of items can be so reused ; (boxes).
 Zero waste
The « zero waste » theory aims at sparing and saving non renewable natural resources and relieving toxic wastes in the ground, water and air. It means producing only what is necessary and then reusing material to make new ones. Wastes become a resource.
Zero waste policies have already been set in some countries, as with the '2020 Zero Waste Initiative' in the UK.
 Taking action
 Reuse centers
Reuse or scroungers' centers are local places where people can buy, exchange or give away items for reuse.
This is environment-friendly as a waste is used as a resource instead of being discarded. With a little creativity, new items can be made from old ones. It's also good to boost the local economy as professionals can be needed to repair products.
- ↑ organizations recycle to raise funds
- ↑ preserving the area
- ↑ List of non recyclables.
- ↑ The '2020 Zero Waste Initiative' in the UK.
- ↑ ReUse Centers and Material Exchanges
- ↑ SCRAP (Scrounger’s Center for Reusable Art Parts)