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Recycling Basics

Recycling is the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. Recycling can benefit your community and the environment.

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Benefits of Recycling

  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals
  • Increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials
  • Saves energy
  • Supports American manufacturing and conserves valuable resources
  • Helps create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States

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Steps to Recycling Materials

Recycling includes the three steps below, which create a continuous loop, represented by the familiar recycling symbol.

  • Step 1: Collection and Processing

    There are several methods for collecting recyclables, including curbside collection, drop-off centers, and deposit or refund programs. Visit How do I recycle... Common Recyclables

    After collection, recyclables are sent to a recovery facility to be sorted, cleaned and processed into materials that can be used in manufacturing. Recyclables are bought and sold just like raw materials would be, and prices go up and down depending on supply and demand in the United States and the world.

  • Step 2: Manufacturing

    More and more of today's products are being manufactured with recycled content. Common household items that contain recycled materials include the following:

    • Newspapers and paper towels
    • Aluminum, plastic, and glass soft drink containers
    • Steel cans
    • Plastic laundry detergent bottles

    Recycled materials are also used in new ways such as recovered glass in asphalt to pave roads or recovered plastic in carpeting and park benches.

  • Step 3: Purchasing New Products Made from Recycled Materials

    You help close the recycling loop by buying new products made from recycled materials. There are thousands of products that contain recycled content. When you go shopping, look for the following:

    • Products that can be easily recycled
    • Products that contain recycled content

    Below are some of the terms used:

    • Recycled-content product - The product was manufactured with recycled materials either collected from a recycling program or from waste recovered during the normal manufacturing process. The label will sometimes include how much of the content was from recycled materials.
    • Post-consumer content - Very similar to recycled content, but the material comes only from recyclables collected from consumers or businesses through a recycling program.
    • Recyclable product - Products that can be collected, processed and manufactured into new products after they have been used. These products do not necessarily contain recycled materials. Remember not all kinds of recyclables may be collected in your community so be sure to check with your local recycling program before you buy.

    Some of the common products you can find that can be made with recycled content include the following:

    • 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

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Recycling Creates Jobs

EPA released significant findings on the economic benefits of the recycling industry with an update to the national Recycling Economic Information (REI) Study in 2016. This study analyzes the numbers of jobs, wages and tax revenues attributed to recycling. The study found that in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for:

  • 757,000 jobs
  • $36.6 billion in wages; and
  • $6.7 billion in tax revenues.

This equates to 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages, and $14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.

For more information, check out the full report.

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