Reincarnation, According to Recycling

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The science of recyclables goes well beyond “blue box/black box.”

Hopefully a significant quantity of the items you use during a day have already been on a number of trips to and through recycling centres. Earth911 and the Huffington Post break down the life cycles of some of our most common recyclable materials

Aluminum Cans

Aluminum cans can be recycled an infinite number of times, and more quickly than any other recyclable material (an aluminum can can be made into another in as little as 60 days).

  • 3.4 million tons of aluminum in the U.S.’ 2010 municipal solid waste (MSW) stream represented 1.4% of total MSW generation.
  • The largest source of aluminum in the MSW stream is used beverage containers and other packaging. In 2010, only 50% of aluminum beer and soft drink containers generated were recycled (about 0.7 million tons).
    (Statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)


Paper can be recycled into new reams of paper 5-7 times until degradation of its fibers forces it to be used for other purposes or mixed with “virgin” paper.

  • Paper makes up 29% of the U.S. MSW, more than any other material Americans throw away.
  • In 2010, Americans recycled just shy of 63% of the paper they used.

(Statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)


Although cardboard can be recycled multiple times over, it too often finds its way into our landfills. In 2009, cardboard made up 11.9% of all waste in the U.S. (National Geographic). Cardboard has an 81.3% recovery rate when recycled correctly.


Glass can be recycled an infinite number of times as, unlike paper, it does not weaken or lose quality when re-purposed.

  • The U.S. generated 11.5 million tons of glass in the municipal solid waste (MSW) stream in 2010. About 27% of this glass was recovered for recycling.
  • Measures of recycled glass items increased from 750,000 tons in 1980 to more than three million tons in 2010.

(Statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)


Plastic, like paper, degrades during recycling, and so weakened plastics are often pieced and woven into other forms. Due to this versatility, the fibers from types of plastic like PET (polyethylene terphthalate), PVC (polyvinyl chloride), and HDPE (high density polyethylene) can be made into a vast series of products including clothing, furniture, carpet, beverage and food containers, cereal box liners, detergent bottles, toys, bags. shrink-wrap, egg cartons, fast food trays, disposable plastic silverware, and CD jackets.

  • 31 million tons of plastic waste were generated throughout the U.S. in 2010, representing 12.4% of the total municipal solid waste stream.
  • Almost 14 million tons of plastics were generated as containers and packaging
  • Only 8%of the total plastic waste generated in 2010 was recovered for recycling.
    (Statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)


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