There is Energy in Your Recycling

By: Derek Fairbairn

Recycling is good for the planet. Finding ways to reuse and recycle saves on material demand, but also saves in the manufacturing processes. Products have unseen impacts that can be reduced by finding ways to reduce the demand for consumption. Many modern materials use up large amounts of energy to transform what we mine and cut down into what we end up using.

Proper Recycling

Proper recycling is key though, contaminating recycling with the wrong recyclable or residual waste can mean a one-way trip to a landfill. Researching how to recycle locally is the best bet to give your recyclables the best chance of being reused.


Properly recycled paper saves trees, but also saves water and energy used in the paper making process. Paper recycling can save 60% energy per page. With progress being made to improve recycling paper with ink the recycling efficiency will also get better.


According to the EPA, 4% of US energy demand comes from the creation of new plastics every year. Plastics can be tricky to properly recycle, with some plastics being down-cycled, where the quality of the materials degrade until their use One of the best ways to save energy needed for plastic is to switch from single use plastics to alternatives to reduce the demand on disposable plastics in general. Reducing the demand and learning how to properly recycle different plastics helps reduce overall energy demands.


Aluminum is special because it can be reused without degrading or needing virgin materials added. “Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to keep a 100-watt bulb burning for almost four hours”1. Some good news: more than half of aluminum cans are recycled. Those recycled aluminum products save a lot of energy and materials. With the same energy it takes to make one aluminum can from virgin materials, 20 cans can be made with recycled aluminum. Recycling aluminum can have energy savings up to 95% compared to using virgin materials. 


Recycling glass only saves 10-30% of energy compared to the process of making new glass. The biggest energy and material savings for glass is to reuse glass containers. Cleaning and then reusing glass as an alternative for single use products helps reduce energy of new glass but also the demand for plastics.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Most things can actually be recycled to save on material and the inputs (what energy, water, fuel are used in the creation of a product). It only depends on efficiency of people separating different recyclables and availability of facilities. Recycling isn’t universal depending on where you are, the garbage and recyclables need to go to a real place and don’t disappear once sanitation takes them. Because of this it’s important to know how to recycle locally.


We need to make some trades in our values to keep the world healthy. We need to trade the perspective of us as the center of our world to us as one part of ecosystems. And trade convenience for efficiency. We can find new, better ways of living than holding on to something that will hurt us and the world around us.  

Every try counts

Sometimes looking at the changes we need to make can feel overwhelming and there are some problems that seem beyond our ability to change. The world needs a change in systems, and every step can help. Recycling or changing our diet won’t save the world by itself, but every step we can make together as a culture and society can help create the demand for greater change for the health of us and our planet. 

Edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity

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