Different Types of Recycling
Recycling is an important part of life; it helps to reduce the amount of waste accumulating in landfill and protects our planet. By reusing and recycling waste correctly we can benefit the economy and the environment by reducing the number of raw materials and energy required to make brand new materials and products.
The Types of Recycling
There is a rich history of recycling in the world, but what are the different types of recycling and how does each type of recycling work? Let’s have a look at the most common types of recycling, how each material is treated and what the benefits of this can be.
All metals are recyclable, they can be made into new materials without losing any of their original quality. There are huge energy savings to be made from using recycled metals over those made from raw materials. Before recycling, it is important to separate ferrous metals from non-ferrous metals.
Ferrous Metal Recycling
Iron and steel are examples of ferrous metals that can be recycled, one of the largest sources of scrap steel is from the bodies of old cars. A strong magnet is used to separate ferrous metals (which are magnetic) from non-ferrous metals (which are not magnetic). In items that are made from mixed metals, this separation process takes place after the metal has been crushed and shredded into small pieces.
Ferrous metals like Iron and steel can be recycled without losing any of their strength or quality, so in theory the materials can be reused indefinitely if recycled correctly.
Non-ferrous Metal Recycling
Examples of non-ferrous metals include copper, aluminium, brass and lead. Once non-ferrous metals have been separated from ferrous metals, they must be manually sorted into different materials and then each type of non-ferrous metals is processed in a different way.
Aluminium, for example, is easy to recycle and making aluminium drinks cans from recycled material saves roughly 95% of the energy it would take to make them from new raw materials. Mining raw materials is an expensive process and uses a lot of energy, so recycling non-ferrous metals is a vital way to save money and reduce energy consumption.
Rubber used to be burned rather than recycled, causing significant air pollution, most countries have now significantly reduced the amount of rubber they burn. Rubber can be recycled, although it doesn’t keep the same quality as the new material, it can be used where premium grade rubber is not necessary. Shredded rubber from recycled tyres can be used as an additive in rubber modified asphalt, which is used for pavements, roads and driveways. It can also be used to create low grade rubber for use in playground equipment and rubber flooring.
Glass is 100% recyclable, which is good news as it is estimated to take around one million years to break down and decompose in landfill. As long as glass is clean when it is recycled, it can easily be made into new products without losing any quality or purity. Recycled glass is just as high quality as new glass made from raw materials; it also saves a significant amount of energy in the manufacturing process.
Recycling plastics is incredibly important as they can take over 500 years to break down and decompose in landfill. It is estimated that around 381 million tonnes of plastic waste are created across the world every year. If we continue to use plastics in the same way, then that plastic waste could double by 2034.
How we go about recycling plastic depends on what it is made from, which is indicated by a resin code. The resin code is usually a number between one and seven, stamped on the item in the centre of the three arrows symbol. Plastics need to be sorted into different types before they can be processed for recycling. Thermoplastics for example can be remelted and reused again. Other types of plastic such as polyurethane and epoxy resin cannot be remelted, instead they are shredded or ground to be used as insulation material or fillers.
Some plastics are labelled as being biodegradable, this is because they contain a starch that breaks down when exposed to sunlight. Biodegradable plastics are not recyclable. These types of plastics will not degrade if buried in landfill, and if they do break down, they still leave behind microplastics which can contaminate water and damage the environment.
Making new items out of recycled plastics uses up to 80% less energy, so it’s vital that we reduce the number of new plastics created by recycling and reusing existing materials.
Paper and Cardboard Recycling
Paper and cardboard are made from the pulp of trees, it’s important to recycle these materials wherever possible, to reduce deforestation. Paper is used across the world for printing, writing, books and packaging, it is estimated that 12.5 million tonnes of paper and cardboard are disposed of in the UK every year.
When paper is recycled it needs to have the ink removed if it will be used for printing again, caustic soda or bleach is added after pulping to make recycled paper products whiter. Both newspapers and cardboard can be recycled into the same materials, other types of scrap paper can be recycled into lower quality items such as tissues, towels and toilet paper. When recycling cardboard boxes it is important to deconstruct and flatten the box, as this will save space in recycling bins and skips.
70% less energy is needed to make paper from recycled stock, compared to when making it from new materials. More recently paper has been used as an alternative to plastic packaging as it is more straightforward to recycle. When you look at the history of recycling, some cultures view recycled paper as being highly valuable, especially if it is used for poetry or painting.
Clothing and Textile Recycling
The rise of ‘fast fashion’ has created an estimated one million tonnes of fabric and textile waste in the UK every year. Some items of clothing and textiles can take hundreds of years to break down and decompose. If possible, all clothing and textiles should be recycled as the process is relatively easy, at least 50% of the clothing thrown away is easily recyclable.
The rise in popularity of sewing and crafting has seen more people try to make their own clothes, repair their existing wardrobe and ‘refashion’ items that are no longer on trend.
However, if you need to throw away clothing that is no longer usable or repairable, then proper recycling will ensure fabrics can be processed and reused to make other garments, blankets and bedding.
Wastewater recycling uses chemicals and machinery to reclaim water for reuse. As populations increase there is increasing pressure to recycle and reuse water, especially in countries with recurring droughts.
There are different ways of recycling water, the level of treatment involved has an impact on the purity and safety of the water and therefore how it can be used. Domestic sewage, or treated wastewater can be reused for landscaping and irrigating golf courses. If the water has been through a secondary treatment process, it can then be used for watering some types of agricultural crops and fields. Wastewater can also be stored in ponds, which over time allows the water to filter naturally as it seeps into the ground through layers of rock and earth.
WEEE stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment. WEEE regulations for recycling apply to almost anything that has a plug or battery. You can find out more about this type of recycling in our guide to white goods and old furniture disposal.
Whether you are disposing of a large kitchen appliance, or a small handheld battery-powered item, it needs to be recycled according to WEEE regulations. Electrical items need to be disposed of carefully so they can be broken down into their individual recyclable components, and avoid being sent to landfill.
Construction and Demolition Waste Recycling
Wood is an extremely valuable resource as it can be recycled and reused to create a huge range of different materials and products. By recycling wood, we reduce the need to chop down trees. Wood is biodegradable as it is a natural resource, but it can and should be reused wherever possible. Even when a piece of wood is no longer structurally stable, it can be chipped and pulped to make new products.
Bricks and Inert Waste Recycling
Rubble from demolitions can be made into useful materials for other construction projects. It can also be reused on site as hardcore or sub base. Reclaimed bricks are highly desirable, particularly if they are from a period property. They can be cleaned and reused in other building projects and as part of home extensions to lower costs and match existing materials.
Bricks and inert waste are very heavy and must be disposed of correctly in an appropriate skip. Bricks and rubble can then be crushed and graded to create aggregates for use on other construction sites and projects.