We all know the three R’s to live sustainably: reduce, reuse, recycle. However, this basic knowledge is not enough to tell us how to use this mantra to pursue a greener lifestyle. When it comes to recycling at home and at work, there are a number of different methods that you can use to minimize your contributions to the global waste and recycling stream. Read on to explore five common types of recycling:
Precycling provides consumers with a means of reducing or eliminating waste before producing it, thereby minimizing the need to recycle. Most of the time, this practice requires consumers to purchase items that will generate little to no waste at the end of their life cycle. However, many who precycle also choose products that they can later reuse in a new way.
There are countless ways to precycle at home and on the go. When shopping at the grocery store, it is important to avoid any products with excess packaging. Thus, buying bulk items is a much more eco-friendly option. At checkout, using reusable bags to store your purchases will help to minimize the need for plastic bags. Other effective precycling methods include purchasing digital versions of movies and songs instead of CDs or DVDs, always opting for rechargeable batteries, and drinking from reusable cups.
Sometimes referred to as “sorted-stream” recycling, multi-stream collection was the preferred method of recycling in the United States for many years. The method involves separating each type of recyclable prior to weekly curbside pickup. Individuals and businesses that participate in multi-stream programs often use designated bins to make sure that they properly separate each recyclable. In order to ensure continued separation during pick-up, recycling trucks will place each recyclable into its own compartment. Once they reach a recycling facility, these materials are sorted before they are sent to manufacturers around the world for re-use.
While the multi-stream method provides a comprehensive means of recycling, it also has its disadvantages. Not only do retrieval workers need to stop for a longer time at each residence and business on their route, but they also need to handle more recycling at each location. In addition, requiring consumers to separate reach recyclable by type can make the process complicated and burdensome. As a result, multi-stream recycling patrons sometimes end up throwing their recyclables into the trash instead of taking the time to sort them into designated bins.
Recognizing the various challenges that surround multi-stream recycling, more entities in the recycling industry have adopted the alternative method of single-stream recycling (also known as mixed stream recycling). Consumers who use this system are free to combine their various paper, plastic, glass, and metal recyclables into a single recycling bin. All of the recycled materials then go into a single-compartment recycling truck that brings them to a nearby materials recovery facility (MRF) for processing and sorting.
The more simplified single-stream recycling process can provide a number of benefits to consumers and collectors alike. The system allows recycling facilities to accept a wider array of materials without the need to additional trucks and time to their pickup routes. With shorter routes and less equipment, recyclers are able to save money. On the consumer end, a single-stream system makes it easier for individuals to recycle at home and at work. The simplicity of this method encourages more people to recycle, which ultimately results in more waste diversion.
Despite these benefits, single-stream recycling systems do have their shortcomings. The method can often raise costs for recycling facilities, which need to more time to carefully sort all the recyclables they receive. However, perhaps the biggest issue with this type of recycling method is the contamination of materials. For example, PET bottles and corrugated cardboard can sometimes contaminate an entire batch of recycled paper.
Source separated recycling
Source separated recycling (sometimes called dual stream recycling) is a method that requires consumers to sort their recyclables before placing them into their designated bins. Mainly, these recyclables go into two “streams”: one for paper-based products and the other for glass and plastic materials. This recycling method places the power of sorting into the hands of the consumer, who must separate recyclables at the source.
Facilities that utilize source separated recycling can build upon the benefits that single-stream recycling provides. The main benefit of the dual stream system is that it minimizes the need for recyclers to process the items they receive. Source separation also results in less contamination of materials, which increases the volume of recyclable goods.
For nearly a century, consumers have used upcycling to make new use of the products and materials that they have around their homes. Originally, this method of recycling enabled families with little money to repurpose everything from doors to used sacks of animal feed. Upcycling only continued to increase in popularity over the years due to its money-saving benefits. In recent years, however, consumers have begun to see a second benefit of upcycling: reducing their environmental footprint.
Unlike traditional recycling, upcycling does not require the use of energy to sort, process, and break down recyclable materials for remanufacturing. In addition, it enables consumers to reduce the volume of waste that they contribute to the waste stream. With a little creativity and the right knowledge, anyone can practice upcycling and give new purpose to used items. For example, plastic bottles can become garden planters, and barn doors can become dining room tables.