RD.COM Knowledge Green Living
Lola MéndezUpdated: Feb. 06, 2023
All of these materials are recyclable. Do your part by disposing of them properly to help conserve the environment.
Recycling is non-negotiable
Recycling is crucial to prevent reusable materials from making their way to landfills. That said, you should aim to reuse and repurpose as much as possible to cut down on what needs to be recycled in the first place.When it does come time to recycle, here are the nine most recyclable items on Earth.
Americans use 650 pounds (0.29 t) of paper per year per person. Fortunately, paper is one of the most recyclable materials—66 percent of paper generated in 2017 was recycled. Clean post-consumer paper is reduced to cellulose fibers and can be reused on average five to seven times. “Cellulose is the same product which is extracted from tree barks to produce paper, and by breaking down paper back into it, it can be used again,” Denise Braun, CEO of All About Waste, says.
Magazines, newspapers, and office papers can usually be recycled but, not all paper products are recyclable. “Paper towels and napkins are not recyclable, typically due to too much contamination from food waste, oils, dirt, and other residues,” Meredith Leahy, waste diversion and circular solutions manager for Rubicon Global, says.
Glass is infinitely recyclable—except for the type of glass used in mirrors. One ton of recycled glass saves 42 kWh of energy and two cubic yards of landfill space and recycling glass is 33 percent more energy efficient than creating new glass. Recycled glass is often used for containers, fiberglass insulation, and artificial sand.
“To recycle glass, the glass must be very clean and the particles must be large enough to separate by color using optical equipment,” says Archie Filshill, CEO of AeroAggregates. “Once cleaned and color sorted, glass is melted and reintroduced into the glass making process, reducing the overall energy required to produce the new glass product.”
While plastics #1 PET and #2 HDPE are the most recyclable, not all plastics can be recycled. (The first type is used to make hard plastic containers such as peanut butter jars and salad dressing bottles while the second is most often used for milk jugs and some shopping bags.) “All plastics have different compound structures and therefore recycling requirements,” says James Rubin, CEO of Enviro Waste. That’s why it’s important that plastics get sorted (either by you or at the recycling facility).
Mechanical recycling reforms plastic into reusable pellets. Clean PET 1 bottles are heated and broken down to be made back into a water bottle while PET 1 bottles that aren’t clean enough are turned into fiber for polyester. Here’s what you need to know about what those recycling numbers mean.
In the U.S. cities that have an organic collection program, food waste is a recyclable material. Food waste can also be reused and repurposed at home. Bruised fruits can be used to make preservatives or pies. Vegetable scraps can be used to make broth. Excess meat can be used for animal feed.
“Food can be recycled into energy, heat, fuel, and composted into a valuable soil amendment that creates healthy plants, prevents erosion, and combats drought. Renderers use meat, fat, and bone to make many useful products such as animal feed, soap, and fatty-acids. Used cooking oil from fried foods is also processed into glycerol and biodiesel for use as fuel and other products,” Ryan Cooper, Waste Diversion Manager and Organics Recycling Lead at Rubicon Global, says.
Steel is the most recycled material by weight. “Steel can continually be recycled because of the chemical composition of its core properties (iron, carbon) and strength,” says Steven Torres, CEO of Metal Carports. “These core properties make it easy to melt and recast without the loss of strength, performance, durability, or quality.” Recycled steel goes to a processing plant where it’s separated from other metals and then re-melted and recast for a new purpose, he explains.
Even better, steel can be reused; the manufacturing and construction industries recycle rebar steel shipping containers to build houses, shops, and offices. “Steel is favored as a recyclable material because of its strength and longevity of each use—steel products often stay in use for decades,” Torres says.
“Aluminum is recyclable because it can be melted down and used infinitely to create new aluminum products,” says Shadi Bakour, CEO of PATHWATER. “Once aluminum is put into the recycling system, it is shredded into small pieces, sorted from other materials with a laser, and melted down using high temperatures. From there, the aluminum is cast into ingots and rolled into sheets, which are then sold to manufacturers and used to create new aluminum products.”
Aluminum requires 95 percent less energy to recycle than to produce from raw material. In 2016, over half of the aluminum in the United States was recycled—1.23 billion pounds of cans were recycled out of 2.5 billion pounds available for recycling. “Aluminum containers easily go from the recycling bin to a recovery facility to store shelves over and over again in a truly closed-loop system,” Bakour says.
According to Bakour, the single most recycled consumer product in the United States is the aluminum can. Learn why you should never crush an aluminum can before recycling it. Aluminum can also be used to scrub pots—check out these 43 truly extraordinary uses for household staples you already own.
Recycling one ton of cardboard saves nine cubic yards of space in a landfill. “Cardboard is recyclable because of its wood fibers,” says Kemi Ibeh of MS Environmental Studies. “Though it can be recycled repeatedly, care must be taken as wood fibers get shorter with each recycling process thus compromising its performance.” Recycled cardboard can be used for paper towels, cereal boxes, shoe boxes, and more.
At a cardboard recycling plant cardboard is pressed into large bales. The raw material is transported to paper mills to be unbaled and mixed with water to turn into pulp, water is then removed and new recycled cardboard is created. “The amount of water used in recycling cardboard is minimal compared to water used in the manufacturing supply chain of virgin material,” Ibeh says.
Concrete is another material that can be recycled and used repeatedly. “Concrete is made of a simple mix that doesn’t have anything added to it and is not treated with anything to prevent it from being reused,” says Chris Batterson, waste diversion manager, construction and demolition at Rubicon Global. When concrete is recycled it’s crushed into tiny particles and then pressed through a screen to remove impure particles. The final result is like-new clean concrete that can be used for new projects including paving for roads, driveways, and sidewalks.
“Concrete is quite possibly the single easiest material to find a recycling home for and the lifespan of recycled concrete can be in the hundreds of years,” says Batterson.
As of 2018, the industrial hemp industry is legal in the United States. Raw materials can be extracted from bio-hemp waste to be used for almost anything that’s typically made out of plastic due to hemp hurds being naturally about 80 percent cellulose. Even Henry Ford made a car mostly out of hemp in the 40s. Hemp fibers are some of the strongest on Earth which makes it easy to recycle and reuse—hemp paper can be recycled up to eight times.
Originally Published: November 06, 2019
Lola Méndez is an Uruguayan-American freelance journalist and writes regularly for Reader’s Digest Culture and Travel sections. Her work has also been published in CNN, Architectural Digest, SELF, ELLE, InStyle, Cosmopolitan, O, The Oprah Magazine, and Parade Magazine, among other publications and her responsible travel blog, MissFilatelista.com. She earned a BA in Marketing from LIM College and is a 200-hour trained yoga teacher. Méndez has appeared on NBC and spoke at the Georgetown Women in Leadership summit. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn
Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? In North America, we recycle around 80 million tons of steel each year. That's more than the weight of all of the cars in the entire state of California.What is the most recycled material on the planet? ›
Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? In North America, we recycle around 80 million tons of steel each year. That's more than the weight of all of the cars in the entire state of California.What are the 10 materials that can be recycled? ›
Below are some of the recyclable materials - aggregates, electronic equipment, glass, metals, organic waste, paper, plastic, textiles, tyres, wood - found in businesses, and the options for reusing them.What is the only material that can be 100% recycled? ›
Aluminum cans are one of the most recyclable materials, as they are 100% recyclable and can be reprocessed over and over again2. Turning recycled aluminum cans into new cans uses 95% less energy than making new ones.What are the most abundant recycled materials? ›
Steel. Steel is the most recycled material by weight. “Steel can continually be recycled because of the chemical composition of its core properties (iron, carbon) and strength,” says Steven Torres, CEO of Metal Carports.Is 90% of plastic never recycled? ›
About 91% of plastic isn't recycled, but why? The reasons behind the low percentage of plastic recycling are manifold. We often simply throw plastics away into the recycling bin, however, due to the material properties of plastics, not all can be recycled.What is the most valuable recyclable material? ›
- Aluminum Cans. This is the classic example of cash for trash that's been around for years. ...
- Plastic and Glass Bottles. Cash it! ...
- Ink Cartridges. Green recycling solutions for when you can't print the colour green anymore! ...
- Cardboard. ...
- Electronic Waste. ...
- Scrap Metal.
- Cereal bags. ...
- Berry boxes. ...
- Plastic food containers. ...
- Dryer sheets. ...
- Cassette cases. ...
- Wine corks. ...
- Egg cartons. ...
- Plastic bottles.
So, which materials are infinitely recyclable? The short answer is metal and glass – they can both be melted down, remolded, and still come out as high-quality as ever.Which item is least recycled? ›
1. Wrapping paper. Wrapping paper can cause confusion, with some people recycling every type of gift wrap and others recycling none at all.
GLASS AND METAL CAN BE RECYCLED INFINITELY.
Unlike plastic, glass and metal (including aluminum) can be recycled infinitely without losing quality or purity in the product.
Metal: Most metals are easily recyclable. In fact, steel is North America's #1 most recycled material. Additionally, Aluminum cans are one of the easiest items to recycle, as they are 100% recyclable.What is most easily recycled? ›
Iron and steel are the world's most recycled materials, and among the easiest materials to reprocess, as they can be separated magnetically from the waste stream.What are 3 plastics that Cannot be recycled? ›
Examples of non-recyclable plastics include bioplastics, composite plastic, plastic-coated wrapping paper and polycarbonate. Well known non-recyclable plastics include cling film and blister packaging.What plastic waste Cannot be recycled? ›
Well-known non-recyclable plastics include cling film, blister packaging, plastic-coated wrapping paper, composite plastic, bioplastics, and polycarbonate. Thermoset plastics contain polymers that form irreversible chemical bonds and cannot be recycled.Can you recycle 100% of plastic? ›
Nearly all types of plastics can be recycled. However, the extent to which they are recycled depends upon technical, economic and logistic factors. Plastics are a finite and valuable resource, so the best outcome after their initial use is typically to be recycled into a new product.What is the hardest to recycle? ›
- Dental hygiene products. Dental care in general is not on a recycler's 'friends list' – almost every product is made from plastic. ...
- Razor blades. ...
- Pill packets. ...
- Bubble wrap. ...
- Cat litter. ...
- CDs and DVDs. ...
- Fruit netting. ...
- Scrap metal.
- Bottles and cans.
- EV batteries.
- Printer ink cartridges.
- Electronic items.
- Cardboard boxes.
Environmental Barriers: This includes issues like location, weather (in some areas), lack of awareness on how and why you should recycle, and difficulty in finding recyclable products/materials near where they live.Is tin foil recyclable? ›
Aluminium foil is found on lots of packaging and, just like your food and drink cans and aerosols, it's recyclable and can also be put out for collection.
A modern glass bottle would take 4,000 years or more to decompose − and even longer if it's in the landfill. Mining and transporting raw materials for glass produces about 385 pounds of waste for every ton of glass that is made.Can shredded paper be recycled? ›
Shredded paper can be recycled, but not all local councils will collect it for recycling, as some paper mills can't process it. This is because: Shredding paper weakens it; It could pose problems at paper mills e.g. maintenance and fire hazard issues.What do people throw away? ›
EPA refers to trash, or MSW, as various items consumers throw away after they are used. These items include bottles and corrugated boxes, food, grass clippings, sofas, computers, tires and refrigerators.What does 3r stand for? ›
The term “3Rs” stands for:
Reduce: Reduce the amount of waste generated. Reuse: Reuse products and parts. Recycle: Use recycled resources.
Reuse or repurpose items such as old clothing, cloth grocery bags, and containers to prevent waste. Buy used items to reduce waste as well as the emissions created by producing new materials or disposing of them in landfills.Which country has recycled the most? ›
Germany has the highest recycling rate in the world. The nation recycles an impressive 66.1% of its waste. How did it become the world's best recycler? The key has been no-nonsense government policy and German citizens getting on board.What is the leading city for recycling in the US? ›
San Francisco – Of course, the crown of the most recycling-friendly city must go to one which makes mass recycling work on a huge scale. Landfill disposal in the USA's San Francisco is at its lowest rate ever, reporting that over 80% of its waste is diverted via reduction (6), reuse, and recycling schemes every year.Does US recycling actually get recycled? ›
Most recycling facilities around the country see a 20 to 25% non-recycle rate. And of the 93% recycled, 100% percent of that makes its way to processors in the U.S. and Canada, which find other uses for it. Morris says a small percentage of material cannot be recycled and will either be landfilled or incinerated.Is asphalt the most recycled material in the world? ›
The world's most recycled material is asphalt. A report from the Federal Highway Administration shows that 80% of the asphalt pavement that's removed each year during widening and resurfacing projects is reused.Is aluminum the most recycled material in the world? ›
Aluminium can be recycled over and over again without any loss of quality. Aluminium is one of the most recycled materials on earth.
Germany has the best recycling rate in the world.What is the most heavily recycled material in the United States? ›
1. Steel. A costly and useful material, steel is used in the manufacturing of automobiles, household appliances, in the construction industry and much more. As a country, we are getting better at recycling this resource, and, consequently, we are sparing the environment from the unnecessary depletion of resources.Which is more sustainable concrete or asphalt? ›
There are a variety of benefits to choosing concrete over asphalt cement. For one thing, concrete is a more sustainable material for the overall environment.What material is better than asphalt? ›
Concrete road surfaces last longer – as much as 25 years, compared to 18 for asphalt. With proper care, both surfaces could last as long as 40 years, but concrete will require less maintenance.What materials are infinitely recyclable? ›
So, which materials are infinitely recyclable? The short answer is metal and glass – they can both be melted down, remolded, and still come out as high-quality as ever.What is the least recycled material? ›
- Wine bottle corks. ...
- Surface cleaner bottle. ...
- Aluminium food tubes (tomato puree, toothpaste) ...
- Envelopes with windows. ...
- Tin Foil, foil trays and foil milk bottle tops. ...
- Deodorant aerosols. ...
- Washing-up liquid bottles. ...
- Glass perfume and aftershave bottles.
- Food waste.
- Food-tainted items (such as: used paper plates or boxes, paper towels, or paper napkins)
- Ceramics and kitchenware.
- Windows and mirrors.
- Plastic wrap.
- Packing peanuts and bubble wrap.
- Wax boxes.
The first efforts to convert waste to energy began as early as the mid-20th century with the implementation over time of a cohesive national recycling policy. This boosted recycling rates and placed the nation as a global leader in recycling.What country does not recycle the most? ›
- #1. Chile. Chile is the number one worst country for recycling plastic, with less than 1% of their total usage actually being recycled. ...
- #2. Turkey. Like Chile, Turkey recycles just 1% of its total plastic as the other 99% ends up in landfill. ...
- #3. Mexico. ...
- #4. Greece. ...
- #5. Israel.