How Many Times Can You Recycle That?

posted 9/6/2017

Some materials can be recycled infinitely. Others only make it through the process once before heading to the landfill. So, what about the plastic, paper, metal and glass items we use every day? Some are recycled into the same product, while others are “recycled down” or turned into something very different from the original item.  Your water bottle may turn into fabric or a park bench. Knowing how many times an item can be recycled allows you to make wiser AND “greener” buying decisions.

How Many Times Can That Be Recycled?

How a recyclable item stands up to the forces (like shredding, melting, or boiling) that re-form it into raw material for manufacturing determines its longevity. If its basic properties don't change, it can be recycled almost without limit. Its recycling days are numbered, however, if it degrades, or downcycles, to a lower-quality material. Here’s a list of the most common types of recyclable materials, how many times they can be recycled and how it’s done:

Unlimited Recycling

  • Aluminum and other metals: Your aluminum beverage cans can be recycled an infinite number of times. Yes, you read that right: INFINITE! Aluminum cans are the most valuable recycled item in the United States and can be recycled repeatedly without degrading. In fact, today’s discarded aluminum beverage containers can be transformed into new cans and back on store shelves in as little as 60 days! Aluminum cans ARE accepted in your Curb It! recycling cart. NOTE: Aluminum foil and foil pans ARE NOT accepted and belong in the garbage.

    In addition to aluminum, other metals such as tin, steel and copper, have an unlimited lifespan. Their properties hold steady no matter how many times they are melted down and made into something new. In addition to aluminum cans, steel and tin food cans ARE recyclable in your Curb It! recycling cart. NOTE: Scrap metal IS NOT accepted in your cart, but can be recycled HERE.
  • Glass: Glass is also endlessly recyclable, as long it's the right kind. Different types of glass have different melting points and can’t be recycled together. Glass food jars and bottles easily transform into new glass containers when recycled and are accepted in your Curb It! recycling cart. NOTE: Other glass like window panes, glassware and light bulbs are not accepted in your cart because they go through a more complicated manufacturing process than simple jars or bottles and contain substances that affect the purity of the glass. >> Learn more on what glass is accepted for recycling in your Curb It! recycling cart.

Can Be Recycled a Few Times

  • Paper: Paper consists of long fibers that become shorter and shorter every time it is recycled. The shorter the fibers become, the harder it is to recycle the paper, so this material can usually only be recycled about five to seven times. After that, the fibers are typically too short to be recycled again. Instead, the material is turned into paper paste and used to create items such as newspapers or egg cartons. >> Learn what paper IS ACCEPTED in your Curb It! recycling cart.

Can Be Recycled Once or Twice

  • Plastic: Believe it or not, most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before being cycled down or downgraded, which means they are recycled into something completely different. They are made into items like clothing, fleece, or lumber, and then the recycling potential is finished – a “once and done” process. Today, there are so many types of plastic with varying degrees of recyclability and value, it’s important to know what is and is not accepted in your curbside recycling program. >> Learn what plastics ARE ACCEPTED in your Curb It! recycling cart.

Now that you know the recycling potential of different materials, you can use the knowledge as a guide when you are making a purchase. Buying any type of recyclable material is smart, but if you really want to live a greener lifestyle, buying items made from material that can be recycled an unlimited number of times is the best way to go.