Number Games: How many times can materials be recycled?

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Aluminum can recycling

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If you’re a frequent visitor of this website, then there’s no doubt that you know the gist of recycling and reusing. The cycle of recycling is unique one: Just like how every material cannot be recycled, certain materials can only be recycled a certain number of times. Earth911’s Kathryn Sukalich shared a very informative slideshow of recyclable materials and their lifespan as a sustainable element.

Aluminum Cans: These suckers can be recycled forever. Yes, forever. Which makes it all the more important that you make sure to recycle your cans since it will make a different. Not only that, but aluminum also recycles quickly. According to The Aluminum Association, after a consumer recycles aluminum, it can be used in as little as sixty days.

Paper: While paper doesn’t have the recycle power of aluminum, it can be recycled into new paper 5-7 times before the paper fibers become too short. But it’s not so simple or clear cut: Paper varies in texture and consistency so the recyclable nature of the material varies. Normal printer paper can be processed 5-7 times into new paper and after that, it can be mixed with “virgin paper.”

Copper and Steal: These metals are like aluminum—they can be recycled an infinite number of time and the turnaround is rapid. What’s more, in the case of copper, according to Copper Investing News, recycled copper maintains the same value as un-recycled copper. What’s more, it’s cheaper to recycle copper than to source new copper.

Cardboard: There’s no set quantitative value for how many times cardboard can be recycled, but simply put, cardboard can be recycled a lot of times. Due to cardboard being made of long and strong fibers, the material can be broken down several times until it loses its quality.

Glass Bottles and Jars: Glass is another material that doesn’t lose quality when recycled and can be recycled an infinite number of times. Just like copper, it is cheaper to recycle glass than to create new glass.

Plastic: Our consumption of plastics are ridiculously high, and unfortunately, they can only be recycled once since they degrade when recycled—according toNational Geographic and the New York Times.

Expanded Polystyrene: This material is hard to quantify, and rightfully so. Sukalich writes: “Okay, so expanded polystyrene (EPS) is a plastic, so the same general rules apply. This is an interesting case for a number of reasons, though, since EPS is usually not accepted by curbside recycling programs and requires a different process to break it down. Typically, EPS is 98% air, so one of the major problems recyclers face is the amount of space it takes up. EPS can be melted down and made back into more packing material, though, which often happens. Half of EPS collected for recycling went into making packaging materials, according to the EPS Industry Alliance, though you might also find it in your house as insulation or lumber.”

  • Susmita Baral

    Susmita is a writer and editor in the Greater New York City area. In her spare time, Susmita enjoys cooking, traveling, dappling in photography, art history and interior design, and moonlighting as a therapist for her loved ones.

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