Although recycling has been a part of society since the beginning, we have only recently started to realize how much of an environmental impact our industrialization is leaving on natural resources. Recycling occurs at both a household and industrial level, and it takes on many different forms. Sometimes, it is merely reusing a product for a different purpose, like creating a cup holder out of an old piece of newspaper. On the other hand, recycling also happens on a much larger scale, where a product is completely broken down on a chemical level and repurposed. While both are on opposite sides of the spectrum, each one does its part to conserve our environment.
What Is Recycling?
In the simplest terms, recycling is a method of making something old into a usable product again. Although plastic, paper and aluminum are usually the first items that come to mind, there are actually many different recyclable household and industrial products. There are two important types of recycling: “up-cycling” and “down-cycling.” These terms refer to the value of the end product after it has been recycled. For instance, a bundle of paper is usually down-cycled, which means that the end product is worth less than the original form that is being recycled. There is a limit to the amount of recycling any one material can withstand before it completely breaks down and is no longer usable.
Why Do We Recycle?
People recycle for various reasons; however, all of them boil down to a very basic need to conserve natural resources, cut manufacturing costs and save energy during production. After the Industrial Revolution, recycling quickly became a necessary part of society – whenever goods are mass produced, the available resources become depleted at a faster rate. Additionally, the low manufacturing and consumer costs that came with mass production started an unhealthy trend of throwing away perfectly usable materials just because they were cheap enough to replace easily. All of these factors contributed to why we recycle today.
How Does Recycling Work?
At a very basic level, recycling works by breaking down a material, extracting the foreign particles, and then repurposing it into a new product. However, different materials require a different process, so there is not a one size fits all answer to the way recycling works. For instance, certain metals, like steel, are smashed down into small cubes or sheets, melted and then repurposed. This is completely different from the process that is used to recycle plastics, paper and organic waste.
Paper is recycled by using a sorting system to separate like pieces of paper. Once the paper is sorted, the pieces are then soaked in a special solution, the ink and dyes are skimmed off the surface of the liquid, and then the clean paper is allowed to dry. Because today’s society is so heavily reliant on paper, it’s very important to make sure we are doing our part to conserve our natural resources. Although trees do repopulate over time, it takes many years for a forest to mature.
Out of all the recyclable materials, plastic is probably one of the most important ones to reuse. The chemical compounds that make up plastic are not easily broken down by the environment, which means that if it is not recycled, it will begin to accumulate in the landfills. Fortunately, there are a lot of uses for recycled plastic and people are starting to become aware of the impact that it can have on the environment.
Other Recyclable Materials
It is possible to recycle most household products, and there are specific companies set up to break down and repurpose all kinds of materials. In fact, even ones that don’t appear recyclable can often be reused at least one more time. For instance, in addition to the common products, like metal and glass, people also recycle electronics and organic waste. Tires make up another huge portion of the recycling industry, as well.
Check out the following links to learn more about recycling: