that you put into your recycling bin actually make a difference? We know that by recycling, we are helping to save landfill space and conserve natural resources, but did you know that by recycling you are also saving a lot of energy? It’s true! It takes a lot more energy to make products from virgin raw materials than from materials that have been recycled. A virgin material must be mined or extracted, transported from its source, processed, and then incorporated into the manufacturing process. Quite often, a product’s life cycle requires a lot of fossil fuel starting with the material extraction process and continues all the way to when you finally purchase that product and bring it home¹.
In contrast, making products from recycled materials requires a much simpler, less energy-intensive process. Recycled materials are collected, transported, separated from other recycled items, processed, and then made into new products³.
For example, making products from recycled aluminum saves 95% of the energy that is used to make products from brand new aluminum³. For every single ton of aluminum, it requires four tons of bruxite ore, which must be mined, transported, processed, smelted (requiring high temperatures), mixed with caustic soda, and then heated and separated from impurities³. Only then can the aluminum be used to make products. It is estimated that recycling one ton of aluminum saves 14,000 kWh of energy, 40 barrels of oil, 238 million BTUs of energy, and 10 cubic yards of landfill space³.
In the following table, you can easily see the difference that recycling makes for various materials when it comes to saving energy and other resources³:
As you can see, when we recycle, we also reduce our need for energy resources. The truth is that the best source of energy savings is the extra energy that we don’t need to obtain in the first place.
By reducing our consumption of resources, finding ways to recycle the resources that we do use, and demanding products that are easily recyclable or compostable, we can reduce the energy required to support our daily needs.
While recycling our waste is very important, it should be a part of a broader personal strategy to reduce energy and resource consumption. You could also do things like grow a garden, drive less, and turn lights and electronics off when they are not in use. For more information about how you can save energy in your own life, there are many resources available online like tips for reducing waste at home or others⁴.