Recycling is saving a material for reuse. Such materials as aluminium cans, glass and plastic containers, batteries, computer parts, rugs, and used cooking oil can be recycled. Many consumers are familiar with kerbside recycling whereby someone comes and picks up materials from your home. There are also collection points where consumers drop off their recyclable goods. Although there are many benefits to recycling, there are costs and drawbacks in recycling some materials.
Aluminium cans and other aluminium containers have been recycled for decades. The beverage industry introduced aluminium cans in the 1960s because aluminium doesn’t rust and can be easily moulded and printed upon. Aluminium is one of the easiest materials to recycle, but there are several problems with this process. Cans often come with extra packaging made of other materials, complicating the recycling process. Scrap aluminium can be contaminated with such elements as lead or iron, which are hazardous. Also, toxins are emitted in the production of new aluminium.
Batteries, especially old batteries, are recyclable but present problems because of mercury and other harmful metals contained within them. Some problems with recycling batteries include improper storage at collection points, which can result in leaks, and the high cost of transporting the materials and sorting through them. This makes battery recycling less cost efficient due to the high levels of energy used to separate and retrieve the metals inside of batteries.
Glass needs to be scrubbed and washed before it can be recycled, which could waste energy and water. Clear glass is easily recycled, but there isn’t much use yet for coloured glass. Also, coloured glass needs to be separated, which is expensive. Despite some uses, large quantities of coloured glass still end up in landfills.
The biggest problem with recycling paper is the amount of paper used by consumers. Paper can only be recycled a few times, usually less than half a dozen. The tensile strength of paper comes from the length of its fibres. When paper is recycled, these fibres are damaged and shortened. Virgin fibres have to be combined with recycled fibres to ensure a viable product.
Plastics are heavy. Transporting them is not cost efficient. As with other material, plastics must be sorted after collection, which is time-consuming and expensive. Plastics are cheap to produce, so the economic advantages for a company to recycle them are relatively low when compared to such scarcer resources as metal.
The ability to reuse a product, contamination in the recycling process, transportation costs, the scarcity of the material, sorting costs and the will of governments and industry to foot the bill when there is no or little profit, are some of the hurdles to efficient and profitable recycling.