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Article | Recycling



Recycling involves the reuse of discarded materials in the manufacture of new products.  This helps prevent waste, reduces the use of new raw materials, lowers energy consumption, cuts down on air and water pollution due to lowered incineration and landfilling, and drops GHG emissions when compared to the production of new items from raw materials. The main benefit from recycling is reduced landfill costs. Recycling also lowers a country’s carbon emissions e.g. 49 million metric tons was generated in the United States for the year 2005.



How did recycling get its big beginnings? In 1987, the Mobro 4000 barge took garbage from New York to North Carolina where it was not allowed to land. It then went to Belize where it was denied as well. It then returned to New York where the garbage was incinerated. This generated a lot of media discussion about recycling and waste which drew attention to recycling and helped launch it in a big way in the United States. 


After products to be recycled are collected, they are put on a conveyor belt. Some areas demand that you separate paper from other recyclables, while others allow you to mix the two together. In the latter case, large sized portions of cardboard and plastic bags are removed manually. Automated machinery separates recyclates by weight. Paper and plastic are separated from glass and metal. A spectroscopic scanner can determine between different types of paper and plastic. This is based on the different wavelengths absorbed by the differing materials.  Magnets can be utilized to separate metals such as iron, steel, and tin cans. Aluminum cans are removed via the use of magnetic eddy currents which detect non-ferrous metals. Glass products must be separated by hand based on their color. Glass can be recycled indefinitely and is incorporated into glassphalt, which is used in road construction and is made up of 30% recycled glass.

The most successful recycling programs are those in which a deposit is added to the product. An example is the one for aluminum cans. The recycling rate is often over 80%.  Aluminum can be recycled indefinitely. It is melted and in this state is indistinguishable from virgin aluminum. Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy compared to using new aluminum.


Americans discard enough aluminum annually to rebuild their entire commercial air fleet. This is bad because the average aluminum can take up landfill space and takes between 200-5000 years to breakdown. For every aluminum can that is recycled, enough energy is saved to run a television for 3 hours. 


Recycled paper is made into pulp. This is added to pulp from virgin wood. Recycling causes the fibers in paper to breakdown. Therefore its quality decreases over time. Therefore, recycled paper must be used for lower quality items, or new fibers must be added to the process.  Printed and colored paper must be deinked. Most paper can be recycled. However, paper coated with plastic or aluminum foil, and ones that are gummed, pasted or waxed are not recycled because it is too expensive. And gift-wrap paper produces a bad quality product and is therefore discarded.


Recycling a ton of paper will: (1) save 2 m3 of landfill; (2) save 17 trees, and one tree can filter close to 27 kilograms of pollutants from the air annually; save 4,800 kWh of energy, which is the equivalent of the average power use of one household over 7 months; save 16, 330 gallons of water; manufacture 3,613 rolls of bathroom tissue, or 3,097 of paper towels.


Table 1 lists the many types of plastics, as found on the Urban Nature Information Service website . In the process of recycling plastics, each type must be sorted according to its resin code. Identification codes 1-6 have been allocated to the six most frequently occurring recyclable plastic resins. The number 7 has been assigned to all other types of plastic, whether recyclable or not.

Tires can also be recycled. These can be used for asphalt and rubber mulch for playgrounds. Clothing is also recycled. Swapping clothes at exchanges have become popular in places such as universities throughout North America. A list of what can or cannot be recycled is shown in Table 2, as taken directly from the Urban Nature Information Service website . It is important to note that labels should be removed from cans and bottles.  And bottles, etc… should only be cleaned enough to prevent odors so as to prevent wasting water. Containers with traces of hazardous materials should not be recycled. And dirty or food stained paper should be discarded.



Table 1.  Plastic (Types of plastics are differentiated by numbers which appear on the containers with the triangle recycling image)


  1. PET: Polyethylene terephthalate
    Soda bottles and oven-ready meal trays.
  2. HDPE: High-density polyethylene
    Bottles for milk and cleaning liquids.
  3. PVC: Polyvinyl chloride
    Food trays, plastic wrap, plastic juice bottles, water bottles and shampoo containers.
  4. LDPE: Low density polyethylene
    Plastic bags and garbage bags.
  5. PP: Polypropylene
    Plastic containers, microwaveable trays.

6. PS: Polystyrene
   Yogurt containers, foam trays, hamburger boxes and egg cartons, plastic cutlery,       protective packaging for electronic goods and toys. Currently this type of plastic is not recycled in Quebec.

   7. OTHER: Any other plastics that do not fall into any of the above categories.
      An example is melamine, which is often used in plastic plates and cups


Source: Urban Nature Information Service .



Table 2.  List of Recyclable and Non-Recyclable Items

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                             Recyclable Items                                                       



Clean aluminum foil                                                              

Clean aluminum pie plates                                                  

Soft drink cans                                                             

Soup cans                                                                  

Fruit cans                                                                   

Coffee cans                                                                       

Tuna cans                                                                     

Cat food cans                                                                     

Beer caps


Paper & Cardboard                                                                                                            

Computer paper                                                                  

Ruled paper                                                               

Junk mail                                                                              

Brown paper bags                                                      

File folders                                                                

Newspaper & inserts                                                            




Telephone books                                                        



Cereal boxes                                                               

Milk cartons                                                                         

Juice boxes                                                                   

Ice cream containers                                                     

Snack food boxes                                                         

Shoe boxes                                                                 

Sugar cartons                                                                      

Paper towel rolls                                                           

Tissue paper rolls



Beer bottles                                                                       

Wine bottles                                                               

Pickle jars                                                                  

Fruit Jam jars



Water bottles                                                             

Pop bottles                                                                

Dish soap bottles                                                       

Hand soap bottles                                                     

Shampoo bottles                                                       

Cleaning agent bottles                                  

Mouth wash bottles                                                  

Face wash bottles

Lotion bottle

Liquid detergent bottles

Cooking oil bottles 

Peanut butter jars

Milk jugs

Juice jugs

Yogurt cups

Salad dressing containers

Bottle caps

Bottle lids


Frozen concentrated juice containers


Non-Recyclable Items



Aerosol cans

Iron hangers

Gas propane tanks

Metal scraps

Metal sheeting


Electric wire


Nails & screws

Pots & pans

Cake pans

Candle sticks




Paper & Cardboard

Pet food bags


Toilet tissue

Paper towels

Paper plates

Carbon paper

Wax paper




Duo tangs


Contaminated cardboard

Bar soap boxes

Detergent boxes

Pizza boxes



Light bulbs

Fluorescent tubes


Window glass

Windshield glass

Mirror glass

Drinking glasses

Cooking pots







Unless your municipality dictates otherwise, the plastics NOT identified by a logo of recycling (triangle made up of three arrows inside which one finds a figure from 1 to 7) are NOT accepted in your recycling box.  This is also valid for the polystyrene (expanded polystyrene #6).




Source: Urban Nature Information Service .