September 10, 2018 Recycling Written by Greentumble
Recycling saves energy
Have you ever wondered if the items

that you put into your recycling bin actually make a difference? Everyone knows 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!

Recycling means to reuse something. The more we recycle; the less energy is needed, costs are lower and we also alleviate the harmful impacts of the processing and extraction of virgin resources on the environment.

Recycling is not only good for our environment, but also for our communities, and our economy [1].

Why does recycling save energy?

Manufacturing product items from scratch can be both pricey and labor intensive to gather, move and process the virgin resources. Processing of usable items like wood, paper, plastic and metal needs huge amount of energy.

Raw virgin material extraction also often involves other negative effects such as water pollution, air pollution, and impacts on local communities and ecosystems.

For example, for every single ton of aluminum, it requires four tons of bauxite ore, which must be mined, transported, processed, smelted (requiring high temperatures), mixed with caustic soda, and then heated and separated from impurities. Only then can the aluminum be used to make products.

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 products.

Several examples of recycled products include:

  • newspapers
  • aluminum can
  • glass jars
  • soup cans
  • pet food cans
  • vegetables and fruit cans
  • coffee cans
  • syrup bottles
  • milk jugs
  • shampoo bottles etc. [2]

 By utilizing recycled items instead of pulling virgin resources, manufacturers can create and develop the same items with less expense and minimal energy that eventually results in less burning of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil.

Open pit sand mining

Open pit sand mining

Since recycled products have already been extracted and processed once; manufacturing the same products the second time is extremely cost-effective and less energy – intensive. New items created from recycled products utilize up to 30 percent less energy [3].

Why do we need to save energy?

Energy is life – all life processes are dependent on energy to grow. By utilizing less energy, we conserve the natural resources and reduce pollution. Thus, being energy efficient helps in retaining the natural resources for a longer period. Consuming energy releases carbon and other poisonous gases that can harm the environment.

There are a number of reasons, to be energy wise like [4]:

  • Conserving energy helps in saving a lot of money. Perhaps, one of the main reasons for saving energy is to cut down the expenses;
  • Fossil fuels are unclean source of generating electricity and hence its conservation can help in reducing carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Conservation of energy can also help in reduction of oil spills and threats caused during procurement of oil and coal, thus, minimizing the harm to ecosystems, around the world;
  • In an attempt to reduce the depletion of renewable resources, scientists have pumped in a lot of money, time and efforts to develop nuclear reactors. These reactors produce immense radioactive waste, causing radioactive pollution [5].

 Considering that our natural resources are depleting at a very fast rate, it is important to save energy.


How much energy does recycling save?

Paper comes from trees, metals from certain rocks and ores, glass from sand and plastic from oil.

Recycling of these items means saving energy, fuel, labor, cost and time which otherwise is extensive in the manufacturing of virgin products. By using products more than once, we conserve natural resources.

In the following table, you can easily see the difference that recycling makes for various materials when it comes to saving energy and other resources.

Aluminum recycling

20 recycled aluminum cans can be created with the amount of energy it takes to manufacture one new can.

The recycling of aluminum scraps is a very efficient process as the metal has the potential to be recycled indefinitely without getting degraded.

One pound of recycled aluminum (around 33 cans) saves around 7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity and one ton of recycled aluminum saves around 40 oil barrels, 14,000 kWh of energy, and 10 cubic yards of landfill space [6].

Plastic recycling

Producing plastic items from recycled plastics minimizes energy needs by 66 percent.

One ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 Kilowatt-hours of energy, 30.4 cubic yards of landfill space, 1,000 to 2,000 gallons of gasoline and around 16 barrels of oil.

recyclable plastic

Recyclable plastic

Recyclable plastic items are used to manufacture landscaping border stripping, bins, battery cases, trays and brooms.

However, it is important to note that plastic products manufactured using polyvinyl chloride, such as piping, window frames, shower curtains, and some toys, cannot be recycled [7].

nonrecyclable plastic

Non-recyclable plastic

Paper recycling

Around 40 percent of all the trash is paper. Manufacturing recycled paper saves 4,100 kilowatt-hours of energy.

One ton of recycled paper saves around seventeen 30-feet tall trees, 463 gallons of oil and 7,000 water gallons, according to EPA.

This doesn’t even include 60 pounds of pollutants in air [8] that are generated in the paper production process.

Glass recycling

Glass is hundred percent recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without alteration in purity or quality.

When you toss glass in a recycling bin instead of a trashcan, you save natural resources like sand, limestone and soda ash, help in keeping waste out of the landfills and also remove the costs of transportation in moving these heavy items.

One ton of recycled glass saves 42 kilowatt-hours of energy, nearly 700 pounds of carbon dioxide from being released in the atmosphere as air pollutant, 5 gallons of oil and 2 cubic yards of landfill space.

Over thirty percent of the raw material used in glass manufacturing now comes from recycled glass [10].


How efficient is recycling?

When compared with the quantity of energy needed to dump the same products into landfills or waste treatment systems (incinerators) and manufacture new items from scratch, the results of recycling vary dramatically, depending on the item.

Aluminum, for example, needs 96 percent less energy to manufacture recycled aluminum cans than it does to extract and process from bauxite.

Environmental benefits of restricting disposable packaging and using more recycled and reusable items, like coffee thermoses, shopping bags, and water bottles are enormous. Considering this, that is what makes recycling an efficient process [10].

Glass and metal are easy to sort, melt and reuse. Paper and cardboard are also utilized to manufacture recycled paper and products made of cardboard. Household and municipal waste (biodegradable waste) are converted into compost that increases fertility of soil and eliminates use of chemical fertilizers in the farms and agricultural lands.

Mixed waste is converted into useful biogas energy in the garbage burning power plant.

Reusable metals are efficiently extracted from the ashes which are further utilized as a foundation material for road construction. The smoke is processed by the air treatment plant to gather harmful greenhouse gases and eliminate any harmful chemicals.

Having this efficient and effective system in place reflects how efficient recycling and reusing is.

Old jeans repurposed as a purse

Old jeans repurposed as a purse

This also means that 99 percent of waste could be perfectly recycled in one way or the other and cost savings from the energy generation alone are well worth the cost of the infrastructure [11].

Apart from the above discussed benefits, other benefits associated with recycling are:

  • Incinerators for waste treatment are harmful for the environment. It disincentivizes citizens to care about what they consume. The process of recycling in combination with composting saves 3 to 4 times more energy than an incinerator can produce.
  • Recycling saves huge amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and, if optimized, the process of recycling can play a major role in meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement to contrast issue of climate change.
  • The recycling sector has developed into a successful business.
  • Recycling benefits the nation’s economy by creating at least 10 times more jobs than incineration and landfilling [12].

These benefits boost the percentage of recycling and the quality of recycled products, thereby creating an added value for not only the environment or economy, but the society as well, and finally moving beyond the practice of mixed waste incineration for good.


How much recyclable material is actually recycled?


It takes around 400 years for plastic to decompose or biodegrade. So, most of it does exist in one form or the other. Only 12 percent has been incinerated.

6 billion metric tons of plastic is in the form of waste out of the 8 billion metric tons produced.

Of this, only 9 percent has been recycled. The major chunk i.e. 79 percent is piling in landfills or sloughing off as litter or garbage in the natural environment and eventually will end up in the oceans. According to a research report, published in 2015, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the oceans every year.

The US ranks behind Europe (30 percent) and China (25 percent) in plastic recycling.

Recycling of plastic in the U.S. has remained at 9 percent since 2012 [13].


Aluminum is 100 percent recyclable. Every ounce that is put in the recycle bin gets recycled and can be found back on a store shelf in just sixty days.

America throws away nearly $1 billion worth of aluminum trash every year and the aluminum industry pays out more than 800 million dollars a year for recycled aluminum cans.

Nearly 75 percent of all aluminum produced in America is still in use today.

Aluminium rods

Aluminium rods

Brazil recycles around 98 percent of its aluminum can production, which is equal to 14.6 billion beverage cans per year, ranking number one in recycling aluminum.

Japan’s recovery rate of 82 percent [14].


Out of 68 million tons of paper and cardboard waste produced in 2014, around 44 million was recycled.

Only 28 percent of paper and related waste was landfilled in 2014.

By weight, paper accounts for more than 50 percent of all recyclable waste collected in the United States of America. In 2012, around 44 million tons of paper and cardboard were recovered in America and 65 percent of that was recycled [15].


Recycled glass substitutes for up to 95 percent of raw materials. An estimated 80 percent of recovered glass is made into new glass bottles, quite quickly.

A glass container after being thrown into a recycling bin can reach back to a store shelf in as little as 30 days.

Glass container manufacturers usually achieve 50 percent recycled content in the manufacture of new glass bottles [16].


Easy recycling tips everyone can follow

#1 Recycle water

Reusing your grey water, i.e. water coming from your bathing, cleaning dishes, laundry, basin and shower water, can reduce the requirement for and reliance on the council’s main water supply system.

Be mindful about your water usage

Be mindful about your water usage

This water can be recycled by pouring it into a flower bed or in your landscape garden. Recycling water allows gardens to be watered during period of drought and also minimizes diversion of freshwater from sensitive ecosystems.

#2 Recycle food

When large quantities of food waste are dumped in the landfills, large amount of methane gas is produced that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.

Food waste should be recycled by composting (anaerobic digestion), that helps to capture methane emissions.

Recycling of one ton of food waste helps to curb emissions of around one ton of CO2 equivalent.

#3 Set up a bin system in your home

It is important to keep a proper bin in your home for your general waste and items meant for recycling.

Items like newspapers, cardboards, glass, plastic-lined paper drink cartons, filthy or food-stained paper napkins or tissues, fast food wrappers made of plastic, corrugated cardboard, plastic bottles can all be recycled.

Simple plastic tub in the laundry room in the house does the trick to throw your mixed recycling into.

#4 Check with your refuse service provider what to and what not to recycle

If you are ever not sure about what are the items that can be recycled, it is advisable to check with your refuse service provider.

Most of the information is available on the website. Many refuse service providers now-a-days have apps for your smart mobiles where comprehensive information and guidelines about what to and what not to recycle.

#5 Glass is 100 percent recyclable

Glass can be recycled endlessly; it is one item that does not deteriorate and degrade in quality, even after repeated recycling.

Old glass bottles

Old glass bottles can be perfectly recycled

So, ensure glass bottles and containers are always recycled.

#6 Buy recycled

Supporting recycling means not only recycling, but also encouraging recycled products.

#7 Prepare your own compost

Composting is one of the effective recycling methods.

Compost your food waste, your garden waste, cuttings and use it to make to your garden soil more fertile.

Composting food scraps will also ensure that your kitchen waste basket fills up more slowly and also does not smell.

#8 Shop smart

One major common contributor to trash is purchasing the same food at the supermarket every week, only to find that heaps of food items are still sitting on the kitchen shelf from last week.

Minimize food waste and save money by double checking your shopping list and ensuring that you buy only those items which are not present in your kitchen shelf or in the refrigerator.


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. The whole idea of recycling is; reduce, reuse and recycle.

You could also do things like grow a garden, drive less, and turn lights and electronics off when they are not in use.

It is important in today’s world if we want a sustainable and clean planet.



[10] recycling/