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Recycling Efficiently - Can It Work? Is It Worth It?

written by: Baby Rani•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 4/6/2011

Recycling, no doubt, is an artistic way of handling used plastic, aluminum, and paper, but some people justify this creativity as a means of sustainability. Does recycling make sense in general? Have you thought about how much fuel the garbage truck burns and how much reprocessing costs?

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    It was only during the 70s that environmental consciousness brought with it a transformed awareness of recycling and reprocessing. At present, about 32% of the mean 1,643 pounds of waste created yearly per person in the United States is reprocessed. Notably, less public waste product is being discarded in our tapering lowlands. This is mainly thanks to chemical engineers who have made it possible by constructing the post-consumer and manufacturing waste product reprocessing industry.

    For any reprocessing industry to be successful, it must have three fundamental traits:

    1. A proper waste gathering infrastructure
    2. Suitable recycling procedures to alter the trash into apt final products
    3. A market for dealing with the reprocessed products
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    Non-Cycling at the Landfill - Pure Waste

    Non-recycling part
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    Recycling process


    Chemical engineers and metallurgical engineers figured out jointly the perfect metal reprocessing methods. However, reprocessing metals is not always easy. For instance, products made of stainless steel can be easily reprocessed back into the steel mill feed stream with minute or no previous processing.

    Nevertheless, when it comes to aluminum, reprocessing is challenging. Prior to reusing aluminum, all polish, paint, and tags are got rid of in a heated oven. The aluminum cans are then cut into tiny bits and dropped into a dissolved aluminum bath, which contains chemicals to eliminate any adulteration. The residual aluminum is shaped into ingots for reprocessing by fabricators.

    The widespread use of recycled aluminum saves energy and reduces pollution, because mining and treating raw bauxite ore to draw out the aluminum it holds needs a lot of energy and wastage is more. Five tons of bauxite is saved for every one ton of aluminum reprocessed.


    Since plastics are used in many ways in our daily life, their waste creates a problem with regard to landfills. Plastics are not readily degradable, and large amounts of rough oil and power are expended in making plastics. However, they can be reprocessed into useful materials. They are separated by machine and recycled with no considerable material decomposition, facilitating the reprocessing of several such plastic goods like pipes, decorations, and toys. This process helps in protecting our environment from plastic trash.


    The paper gathered at the reprocessing center is wound in tight bales and sent to a paper mill. It is here that this waste paper is reprocessed into new and usable paper. A self-propelled vehicle moves the paper from the storehouse to huge transporters and then on to a huge vat known as a pulper containing water and chemicals. In the pulper, the paper is chopped into small bits. Next, it is treated with a heating mixture that breaks the paper into minute strands of cellulose known as fiber. The pulp is then forced into screens to remove any contaminants. The pulp is sometimes treated through an operation known as deinking, meaning removal of the printing ink if any on the paper. Then it is treated with various chemicals and finally coated to provide a smooth and shining surface.

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    Cost-benefit analysis of recycling

    There is quiet a lot of argument with regard to whether recycling is economically beneficial. A report by the Technical University of Denmark stated that recycling is the most competent method (83%) to cast away household waste. On the other hand, a 2004 appraisal by the Danish Environmental Assessment Institute resolved that incineration as the most efficient method for casting away drink containers, including the aluminum ones.

    Preserves energy

    There is no clear-cut information with regard to the amount of energy saved by recycling waste materials. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) points out that paper formed by reprocessing uses 40% less energy than paper made from fresh timber. But some critics are of the opinion that recycling paper can use more energy than that required to dispose of it in conventional landfill methods.

    Thus, it is not easy to find out the precise amount of energy exhausted or brought forth in waste removal procedures. Energy used for recycling depends on the kind of material that is being recycled. For example, aluminum normally uses far less energy when reprocessed than when produced from scratch. The EPA says that reprocessing aluminum cans can save 95% of the energy necessary to make the same quantity of aluminum from bauxite.


    Money that can actually be saved by recycling depends on the competence of the reprocessing program. In reality, the cost of reprocessing depends on a range of elements. Sometimes the cost of reprocessing materials surpasses the price of raw materials like pure plastic resin costs 40% less than reprocessed resin. At the same time aluminum, reprocessing saves a lot of money because very less amount of energy is consumed when recycling than when new aluminum is manufactured.

    Thus, it can be concluded that the benefits of recycling depends on the materials to be recycled and the program doing it.

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    Alex Hutchinson - Is Recycling worth it?

    Chemical Engineers in Action: Recycle and Reuse

    A recycling revolution: Aluminum recycling Facts

    David Dougherty: Does Recycling Make Economic Sense?