AskDefine | Define recycled

User Contributed Dictionary


Verb form

  1. past of recycle


  1. That has been through a recycling process
    This cardboard is made from recycled paper

Extensive Definition

Recycling is the reprocessing of old materials into new products, with the aims of preventing the waste of potentially useful materials, reducing the consumption of fresh raw materials, reducing energy usage, reducing air (from incineration) and water (from landfilling) pollution by reducing the need for "conventional" waste disposal, and lowering greenhouse gas emissions as compared to virgin production. These materials are either brought to a collection centre or picked-up from the curbside; and sorted , cleaned and reprocessed into new products bound for manufacturing.
To judge the environmental benefits of recycling, the cost of this entire process must be compared to the cost of virgin extraction. In order for recycling to be economically viable, there usually must be a steady supply of recyclates and constant demand for the reprocessed goods; both of which can be stimulated through government legislation.


Early recycling

Recycling has been a common practice for most of human history, with recorded advocates as far back as Plato in 400 BC. During periods when resources were scarce, archaeological studies of ancient waste dumps show less household waste (such as ash, broken tools and pottery)—implying more waste was being recycled in the absence of new material.
In pre-industrial times, there is evidence of scrap bronze and other metals being collected in Europe and melted down for perpetual reuse, For example, though recycling might make economic sense in a densely populated area where virgin materials are scarce and disposal costs high, legislated recycling in other situations would only bring unnecessary economic hardship. |- !Material!!Energy Savings!!Air Pollution Savings |- |Aluminium||95%
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has also concluded in favour of recycling, saying that recycling efforts reduced the country's carbon emissions by a net 49 metric tonnes in 2005. John Tierney's extensive New York Times article, titled "Recycling is Garbage", was also highly critical of recycling, saying "the simplest and cheapest option is usually to bury garbage in an environmentally safe landfill", and claiming that "recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources".

Import and export of recyclates

The value of recyclates can be seen by the fact that certain countries have begun to import the unprocessed materials. Some have complained that the ultimate fate of recyclates sold to another country is unknown and they may end up in landfill instead of reprocessed. According to one report, in America, 50-80% of computers destined for recycling are actually not recycled . However, Pieter van Beukering, an economist specialising in waste imports of China and India, believes that it is unlikely that bought materials would merely be dumped in landfill: he also claims that the import of recyclates allows for large-scale reprocessing, improving both the fiscal and environmental return through economies of scale. Some highlights from the article:
  • In cases where recycling truly does save resources, such as with large scraps of aluminum, this will be reflected in market prices, and voluntary recycling will take place. Thus, there is no need for the government to mandate it.
  • Tree farmers plant more trees than they cut down.
  • Government mandated recycling is more expensive than putting the garbage into landfills, which means that this recycling uses up more resources than it saves.
  • Some small towns with landfills are happy to import garbage from other cities and states because it provides jobs and tax revenue.
  • Today's modern landfills are much cleaner and safer, and much less likely to leak and pollute than the landfills of the past.
  • Modern landfills often collect the methane produced by the decomposition of the biological wastes (which would have otherwise escaped into the atmosphere adding to global warming) and use the gas as fuel to produce electricity for the surrounding communities.
  • Regarding the claim that the U.S. is running out of landfill space, Tierney wrote, "A. Clark Wiseman, an economist at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., has calculated that if Americans keep generating garbage at current rates for 1,000 years, and if all their garbage is put in a landfill 100 yards deep, by the year 3000 this national garbage heap will fill a square piece of land 35 miles on each side. This doesn't seem a huge imposition in a country the size of America. The garbage would occupy only 5 percent of the area needed for the national array of solar panels proposed by environmentalists. The millennial landfill would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the range land now available for grazing in the continental United States. And if it still pains you to think of depriving posterity of that 35-mile square, remember that the loss will be only temporary. Eventually, like previous landfills, the mounds of trash will be covered with grass and become a minuscule addition to the nation's 150,000 square miles of parkland."
In a 2002 article for The Heartland Institute, Jerry Taylor, director of natural resource studies at the Cato Institute, wrote, "If it costs X to deliver newly manufactured plastic to the market, for example, but it costs 10X to deliver reused plastic to the market, we can conclude the resources required to recycle plastic are 10 times more scarce than the resources required to make plastic from scratch. And because recycling is supposed to be about the conservation of resources, mandating recycling under those circumstances will do more harm than good."
The city of Santa Clarita, California was paying $28 per ton to put garbage into a landfill. The city then adopted a diaper recycling program that cost $1,800 per ton.
All recycling techniques consume energy for transportation and processing and some also use considerable amounts of water, although recycling processes seldom amount to the level of resource use associated with raw materials processing.
There may also be drawbacks with the collection methods associated with recycling. Increasing collections of separated wastes adds to vehicle movements and the production of carbon dioxide. This may be negated however by centralized facilities such as some advanced material recovery facilities and mechanical biological treatment systems for the separation of mixed wastes. It has been calculated that collecting waste and disposing it in a landfill is about $60 a ton opposed to separate collecting and taking it to be recycled costs $150 a ton.
Recycled materials also sometimes cost more financially than their non-recycled versions. This is not universal to every recycled product, but it does occur.
Negative consequences from mercury recycling have been cited by The Wall Street Journal. The article traces mercury recovered from American recycling programs into sales of mercury for alluvial mining activities in Brazil. During the autumn of 2006, the European Union banned the export of liquid mercury, and a life-cycle analysis prior to institution of recycling programs may reduce the risk of unintended environmental consequences.
Michael Munger, the Chair of Political Science at Duke University, argued that the financial costs of recycling some materials outweigh the environmental benefits, and that the environmental benefits of recycling do not compensate for the extra effort it may require. In a 2007 article, he wrote, "... if recycling is more expensive than using new materials, it can't possibly be efficient... There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource... or just garbage... If someone will pay you for the item, it's a resource... But if you have to pay someone to take the item away... then the item is garbage."
In the US, recycling facilities currently generate estimated revenues of $2,981 million a year. Growth has exceeded 7 percent per year for the past five years (from 2003 to 2008) due to rising waste volumes and increasing recyclable commodity prices. New initiatives can change the industry. For example in California, and New York moves to raise the requirements for the set amount of waste to be diverted from the waste stream from 50 percent to 75 percent can produce healthy profits for companies that collect and process recyclables.



In order for a recycling program to work, having a large, stable supply of recyclable material is crucial. Three legislative options have been used to create such a supply: mandatory recycling collection, container deposit legislation, and refuse bans. Mandatory collection laws set recycling targets for cities to aim for, usually in the form that a certain percentage of a material must be diverted from the city's waste stream by a target date. The city is then responsible for working to meet this target.
Governments have used their own purchasing power to increase recycling demand through what are called "procurement policies". These policies are either "set-asides", which earmark a certain amount of spending solely towards recycled products, or "price preference" programs which provide a larger budget when recycled items are purchased. Additional regulations can target specific cases: in the US, for example, the Environmental Protection Agency mandates the purchase of oil, paper, tires and building insulation from recycled or re-refined sources whenever possible.


The large variation in size and type of batteries makes their recycling extremely difficult: they must first be sorted into similar kinds and each kind requires an individual recycling process. Additionally, older batteries contain mercury and cadmium, harmful materials which must be handled with care. Because of their potential environmental damage, proper disposal of used batteries is required by law in many areas. Unfortunately, this mandate has been difficult to enforce.
Lead-acid batteries, like those used in automobiles, are relatively easy to recycle and many regions have legislation requiring vendors to accept used products. In the United States, the recycling rate is 90%, with new batteries containing up to 80% recycled material. Any grade of steel can be recycled to top quality new metal, with no 'downgrading' from prime to lower quality materials as steel is recycled repeatedly. 42% of crude steel produced is recycled material.

Non-ferrous metals

Aluminium is shredded and ground into small pieces or crushed into bales. These pieces or bales are melted in an aluminium smelter to produce molten aluminium. By this stage the recycled aluminium is indistinguishable from virgin aluminium and further processing is identical for both. This process does not produce any change in the metal, so aluminium can be recycled indefinitely.
Recycling aluminium saves 95% of the energy cost of processing new aluminium.


Glass bottles and jars are gathered via curbside collection schemes and bottle banks, where the glass may be sorted into color categories. The collected glass cullet is taken to a glass recycling plant where it is monitored for purity and contaminants are removed. The cullet is crushed and added to a raw material mix in a melting furnace. It is then mechanically blown or molded into new jars or bottles. Glass cullet is also used in the construction industry for aggregate and glassphalt. Glassphalt is a road-laying material which comprises around 30% recycled glass. Glass can be recycled indefinitely as its structure does not deteriorate when reprocessed.


Paper can be recycled by reducing it to pulp and combing it with pulp from newly harvested wood. As the recycling process causes the paper fibres to breakdown, each time paper is recycled its quality decreases. This means that either a higher percentage of new fibres must be added, or the paper downcycled into lower quality products. Any writing or colouration of the paper must first be removed by deinking, which also removes fillers, clays, and fiber fragments.
Almost all paper can be recycled today, but some types are harder to recycle than others. Papers coated with plastic or aluminium foil, and papers that are waxed, pasted, or gummed are usually not recycled because the process is too expensive. Gift wrap paper also cannot be recycled due to the its already low quality. Many international organisations collect used textiles from developed countries as a donation to those third world countries. This recycling practise is encouraged because it helps to reduce unwanted waste while providing clothings to the needies. Damaged textiles are further sorted into grades to make industrial wiping cloths and for use in paper manufacture or material suitable for fibre reclamation and filling products. If textile reprocessors receive wet or soiled clothes however, these may still be disposed of in a landfill, as the washing and drying facilities are not present at sorting units.
Fibre reclamation mills sort textiles according to fibre type and colour. Colour sorting eliminates the need to re-dye the recycled textiles. The textiles are shredded into "shoddy" fibres and blended with other selected fibres, depending on the intended end use of the recycled yarn. The blended mixture is carded to clean and mix the fibres and spun ready for weaving or knitting. The fibres can also be compressed for mattress production. Textiles sent to the flocking industry are shredded to make filling material for car insulation, roofing felts, loudspeaker cones, panel linings and furniture padding.


Recycling timber has become popular due to its image as an environmentally friendly product, with consumers commonly believing that by purchasing recycled wood the demand for green timber will fall and ultimately benefit the environment. Greenpeace also view recycled timber as an environmentally friendly product, citing it as the most preferable timber source on their website. The arrival of recycled timber as a construction product has been important in both raising industry and consumer awareness towards deforestation and promoting timber mills to adopt more environmentally friendly practices.
Wood recycling is a subject which has in recent years taken an ever greater role in our lives. The problem, however, is that although many local authorities like the idea of recycling, they do not fully support it. One of the countless examples, which has been in the news is the concept of actually recycling wood which is growing in the cities. Namely, recycling timber, trees and other sources.

Other Techniques

Several other materials are also commonly recycled, frequently at an industrial level.
Ship breaking is one example that has associated environmental, health, and safety risks for the area where the operation takes place; balancing all these considerations is an environmental justice problem.
Tire recycling is also common. Used tires can be added to asphalt for producing road surfaces or to make rubber mulch used on playgrounds for safety.

Sustainable design

Much of the difficulty inherent in recycling comes from the fact that most products are not designed with recycling in mind. The concept of sustainable design aims to solve this problem, and was first laid out in the book "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things" by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart. They suggest that every product (and all packaging they require) should have a complete "closed-loop" cycle mapped out for each component—a way in which every component will either return to the natural ecosystem through biodegradation or be recycled indefinitely.


recycled in Arabic: استرجاع النفايات
recycled in Catalan: Reciclatge
recycled in Czech: Recyklace
recycled in Danish: Genbrug
recycled in German: Recycling
recycled in Modern Greek (1453-): Ανακύκλωση
recycled in Spanish: Reciclaje
recycled in Esperanto: Recikligo
recycled in Persian: بازیافت
recycled in French: Recyclage
recycled in Croatian: Recikliranje
recycled in Indonesian: Daur ulang
recycled in Icelandic: Endurvinnsla
recycled in Italian: Riciclaggio dei rifiuti
recycled in Hebrew: מיחזור
recycled in Latin: Anacyclismus
recycled in Hungarian: Újrahasznosítás
recycled in Dutch: Hergebruik
recycled in Japanese: リサイクル
recycled in Norwegian: Resirkulering
recycled in Norwegian Nynorsk: Resirkulering
recycled in Narom: Èrcycliéthie
recycled in Occitan (post 1500): Reciclatge
recycled in Polish: Recykling
recycled in Portuguese: Reciclagem
recycled in Russian: Переработка отходов
recycled in Simple English: Recycling
recycled in Slovak: Recyklácia
recycled in Slovenian: Recikliranje
recycled in Serbian: Recikliranje
recycled in Serbo-Croatian: Recikliranje
recycled in Finnish: Kierrätys
recycled in Swedish: Återvinning
recycled in Thai: รีไซเคิล
recycled in Turkish: Geri dönüşüm
recycled in Chinese: 資源回收再利用
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