How Much Waste Can You Reduce by Recycling?

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Before we start let’s think about the paragraph below, depicting the three R’s

  • Reduce - reduce your waste by choosing fresh food carefully, noting the sell-by dates, and being aware of the amount of packaging around any goods you are purchasing.
  • Reuse - Plastic shopping bags are a good example, reuse both for shopping and lining your kitchen garbage can.
  • Recycle - Sort your recyclables and use your curbside collection box, new blue bins, or get them to a recycling center.

Depending on where you live and your country’s policy on recycling, domestic waste is what we throw away in the rubbish bin, which usually gets tipped at the nearest landfill site or incinerated.

Most countries have recycling schemes; here in the UK policy is governed EEC Rules and Guidelines. In the rest of the world, most countries are intent on recycling as much of their rubbish as possible through various recycling initiatives.

The following sections examine domestic recycling, and the different methods used. Also from available data, produce a table showing waste and recycling tonnage figures in different parts of the world.

The first section briefly examines the different materials that can be recycled through curbside collection boxes, special collection bins and points, sorting and reprocessing. In doing so hopefully we shall demonstrate how much waste we can reduce by recycling.

Curbside Collection and Blue Bin

Curbside Collection

This pickup of common recyclables are available in most metropolitan areas. Among the items usually collected are:

  • Cans - Aluminum and tin cans
  • Paper - Newspapers, magazines, junk mail, fliers and phone books
  • Plastic bottles

Blue Bin

The EEC has brought in a blue bin to replace the blue curbside collection boxes; the item collected are;

  • Aluminum and tin cans as well as used steel food cans (washed out)
  • All paper except; Yellow Pages Phone Directory (too much bleach required to remove yellow stain) and shredded paper. I shred all personal mail - bank, medical etc, so I can put the shredded paper on the compost bin instead.
  • Plastic bottles; but not the lids - these are produced from a different grade of plastic and would not mix with the bottle plastic material.

Local Mini Recycling Sites

You will find these large circular color coded bins sited at strategic points locally dotted around the town and at usually at supermarkets. In general, these can collect the following materials:

  • Plastic bottles
  • Cardboard
  • Paper
  • Glass bottles (bottle bank)
  • Aluminum and tin cans

Household Recycling Centers

These are a new addition to local recycling, so not all countries have these facilities. Materials accepted for recycling are:

  • Wood – wood off-cuts, old doors & planks
  • Glass – all types of glassware
  • Paper – all types of paper
  • Cardboard – all types of cardboard boxes
  • Plastic – all types of plastic
  • Electrical Equipment – old heaters, radios, mobile phones, TV sets, computers and monitors
  • Paints and Oils – paint and old engine oil
  • Car 12V Batteries - hazardous acid; transport upright and careful not to drop
  • Ferrous Metals – corrugated iron and steel, bicycles
  • Garden Refuge – mown grass cuttings, plants and bushes
  • Rubber Tires
  • Building Rubble – old bricks, wall tiles
  • Textiles – blankets, old clothes and shoes

A spread sheet and bar chart showing statistics for recycling and composting household waste per country are shown below, that I complied from the latest data available.

Sorting Facilities

Every region normally has its own central sorting center. Here operators have the unenviable task of sorting the materials ready to be picked up by the recycling companies for reprocessing.

Goods Made from Recycling Materials

Once the sorted recycling materials are transported to the different processors, the materials can be turned into the following goods:

  • Plastic Bottles – converted to clothes, refuse sacks and PVC window and door frames
  • Ferrous and Non-ferrous Metals – smelted back to steel and aluminum for reuse (aluminum smelting from the ore bauxite is one of the most electrical energy consuming processes, so aluminum cans recycling is a great energy saver).
  • Paper and Cardboard – reprocessed into newspaper, toilet tissue, or greeting cards.
  • Textiles – charity and relief agencies such as Salvation Army and Save the Children get first crack at these items which will be washed and earmarked for the needy. The rest goes for shredding and used for fillings for items such as cushions and soft toys.
  • Glass – re-melted and made into glass bottles
  • Car 12V Batteries - acid and lead is recycled.
  • Rubble - re-crushed and used as road infill


So just how much waste can you reduce by recycling? Well, as we have seen every effort is being made to encourage us to recycle through the different schemes. We have also looked at the goods which can be produced from the processed recycled materials. It is difficult to quantify the amount of waste we actually reduce by recycling, but I have made a table showing the overall waste produced and total recycled in some parts of the world as an idea. For the whole of Scotland***** the figures were 34% of the 3 million tonnes waste recycled, over 1 million tonnes of waste being reduced by recycling.

*Figures based on 2009 statistics prepared by Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA)

Note in most of Europe a fee is payable for every bag of rubbish over and above the alloted rubbish bin taken from each house, this acts as a good incentive to recycle as much as possible.


This post is part of the series: Recycling

We all throw a lot of waste into the rubbish bin which could have been saved by kerbside recycling. This can be easily carried out by saving aluminium and tin cans, plastic bottles and old newspapers and magazines and putting them in a special container supplied and collected by the council.

  1. Reducing Waste Through Recycling