The Benefits of Recycling as an Energy Conservation Measure

Recycling is an effective energy conservation measure that translates into avoided emissions alongside other environmental and economic benefits. It saves energy by decreasing or eliminating energy use during extraction, transportation, and processing of raw materials into finished products.

How Recycling Saves Energy

Manufacturing is a labor, waste, and energy-intensive process that is never-ending due to the increasing demand for consumer products. Manufacturing products from scratch requires raw materials to be extracted, transported, and refined. However, when recycling, you are using already refined materials that need less energy to be transformed into usable products.

Recycling also saves time, money, natural resources, conserves the environment, and shrinks landfills. Hence, the more we recycle, the more we save and gain. Because of these benefits, it is essential to sign up for a residential recycling collection service to have your recyclable trash going to the right place.

The amount of energy saved through recycling generally depends on the material being reprocessed. Let’s take a look at the energy savings of four of the most commonly recycled materials.

1. Aluminum

Aluminum manufacturing requires huge amounts of heat and electricity. Despite constant efforts to reduce energy consumption, manufacturing aluminum still costs three times more than the theoretical minimum energy requirement.

Recycling aluminum cans and scrapes requires 6 percent of the energy needed to manufacture aluminum from bauxite ore. Repurposing aluminum saves the energy that would have been used to extract, transport, crush, and combine bauxite with caustic soda. Additionally, extracting aluminum from bauxite requires the ore to be purified and smelted.

Thus, the aluminum recycling process is fast, efficient, and achieves up to 94 percent energy savings. Even better, you can recycle aluminum infinite times without degrading, increasing energy saving in the long run. Besides, introducing new alloys and improved product design along the product chain results in more energy and environmental savings.

2. Glass

Glassmaking is an energy-intensive process that involves melting sand and other minerals at extremely high temperatures. Reprocessing glass still needs lots of energy to melt the glass and make a new product. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says reprocessing glass results in 30% energy savings. Glass, like aluminum, does not degrade when it is recycled.

Thus, tossing glass in recycling bins will help preserve natural resources, like sand and soda ash, and reduce the energy costs involved with transporting these heavy materials. It also allows glass manufacturers to cut on energy input to their furnaces. The cumulative energy costs decrease by 2 to 3 percent for every 10 percent of broken glass used in the production process.

Moreover, the durability of glass allows for recycling without reprocessing. This means that you can save 100% energy by cleaning and reusing glass around your home and eliminate the need for an energy-intensive manufacturing process.

3. Paper

An average American household throws away 13,000 pieces of paper every year. These translate into almost 1 billion trees worth of paper being thrown away yearly in the U.S. You can recycle all or most of this paper and contribute to 40% energy savings. Recycled paper can be used to make a variety of new paper products.

However, this is limited by its appearance, which is not as white or smooth as new paper. Fortunately, biodegradable inks and erasable paper promise improved paper recycling efficiency. You could also reduce your paper usage or reuse paper around your home whenever possible to conserve energy and save trees.

4. Plastic

Many plastic products are single-use commodities that are only in use for a few minutes. However, these require hundreds of years to biodegrade. Sadly, approximately 4 percent of America’s total energy consumption goes to producing plastic products.

Recycling plastic requires only about 10% of the energy needed to manufacture one pound of plastic from virgin sources. The recovery process has short-term energy-saving benefits because plastics degrade every time they are recycled.

However, many manufactures have ways of repurposing low-grade plastics to use in less demanding applications, such as carpeting, park benches, auto parts, and insulation.

Other Materials to Recycle Around Your Home

You can recycle many other materials around your home, and you can determine their energy savings using the iWARM tool created by the EPA. Some of these materials include

You can also contribute to energy conservation by purchasing recycled household products. Some of the most common include

  • Egg cartons
  • Newspapers
  • Comic books
  • Trash bags
  • Paper towels
  • Glass containers
  • Car bumpers

Bottom Line

Reduce, reuse, recycle is a lifestyle that leads us to a greener planet. Following these guidelines for a greener planet will also save you some coins because most recycled products cost significantly less than products produced using virgin material. Keep in mind that 75 percent of all waste can be recycled, and doing this will save the planet loads of energy.

About Salman Zafar

Salman Zafar is the CEO of BioEnergy Consult, and an international consultant, advisor and trainer with expertise in waste management, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, environment protection and resource conservation. His geographical areas of focus include Asia, Africa and the Middle East. Salman has successfully accomplished a wide range of projects in the areas of biogas technology, biomass energy, waste-to-energy, recycling and waste management. Salman has participated in numerous national and international conferences all over the world. He is a prolific environmental journalist, and has authored more than 300 articles in reputed journals, magazines and websites. In addition, he is proactively engaged in creating mass awareness on renewable energy, waste management and environmental sustainability through his blogs and portals. Salman can be reached at salman@bioenergyconsult.com or salman@cleantechloops.com.
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