By repurposing discarded materials into a new product, recycling uses less energy, natural resources and saves greenhouse gases
In Germany, more than 400 million tons of waste are generated every year. The largest share is construction waste at 228 million tons, followed by household, industrial and commercial waste at 105 million tons – just under a quarter of the total waste generated. That means a German citizen generates around one kilogram of waste per day. One type of waste that accumulates in particularly large quantities is packaging waste – with a total of 19 million tons. In private households, the consumption of packaging waste has increased by 20% since 2010. When it comes to plastic waste in the EU, only 30% of that waste is recycled, the remainder incinerated or sent to landfill. Yet, each ton of recycled plastic saves one ton of CO2 compared to plastic made from petroleum. Recycling consumes significantly less energy than creating a product or material from scratch. It saves greenhouse gases that are produced during new production when mining, cleaning, and refining the necessary raw materials. Additionally, the consumption of natural resources such as wood or petroleum and energy consumption is reduced (Quarks; Frame; NABU).
Recycling refers to the process of repurposing discarded recyclable materials into a new product (TerraCycle). A distinction is made here between three types of recycling: reuse means that used products are reused in their originally used form, e.g., reusable bottles. Material recycling is the recycling of material that makes up the waste product, e.g., PET plastic bottles. Energy recovery can also be seen as recycling for which the energy that was once put into the product is released again as heat energy and can be used, for example, to generate electricity. Furthermore, recycling differs from downcycling as well as from upcycling: For example, if PET bottles are produced again after being crushed and melted down, this is referred to as a high-quality recycling process, as the recyclate is reused for the same purpose. Downcycling on the other hand describes the process when different types of plastic are mixed and the plastic waste occurs to be contaminated: High-quality pure PET is turned into low-grade polyesters, which are more susceptible to breakage and usually cannot be recycled again. Finally, when speaking of upcycling, low-grade materials are turned into high-quality materials (Quarks).
When it comes to recycling, it is important how the trash is being separated. Everything that ends up in residual waste is predominantly incinerated or ends up in landfills. The better consumers separate their waste, the more of it can also be recycled in the end. Post-industrial and pre-consumer waste, which is generated during the manufacturing process, as well as end-consumer waste, which is generated after a product has been used and disposed of by an end consumer, must be separated properly to guarantee a smooth recycling process (TerraCycle). There are a number of things to keep in mind, especially for the end consumer: Glass goes in glass containers, paper, cardboard and cardboard boxes in the paper garbage can; all other packaging such as plastic, aluminum or tinplate, milk cartons or cardboard containers coated with foils go in the yellow bag or the yellow garbage can. It is furthermore important to separate packaging that consists of several components into its individual parts, e.g., aluminum lids and plastic cups, lids and bottles as well as adhesive strips and paper; food scraps should be thoroughly removed. Particularly important are organic waste garbage cans, as composting plants can replace artificial fertilizer or peat soil by producing fertilizer from organic waste, which in turn uses less energy and greenhouse gases, and protects natural ecosystems. Wet biowaste and food waste are also suitable for producing biogas, which can be burned in a combined heat and power plant to generate electricity and thermal energy. In Germany, 3.3 million metric tons of easily recyclable organic waste mistakenly end up in the residual waste garbage can and are incinerated. However, if this waste was disposed of in organic waste and then recycled in biogas plants, 165,000 four-person households could be supplied with electricity for more than a year (Quarks).
The production and recycling of packaging requires raw materials and energy, so waste prevention always comes before recycling. But if waste cannot be avoided, as much waste as possible should be recycled to recover raw materials that can be processed into new products.
Here are five examples for products made from recycled materials:
The Bell Chair by Magis Spa
The Bell Chair is produced with recycled polypropylene, which is obtained from the waste generated by the Italian furniture brand’s own furniture production as well as from the local car industry. Almost all new materials are excluded, and the chair can be fully recycled again after use. This way, Bell Chair forms an almost closed material cycle.
MALTA I by Omayra Maymó
The MALTA I is a pedestal made with barley waste from the beer brewing process of the Dutch brewer Heineken. After having provided the flavor to the drink, the barley malt is removed from the liquid, becoming a residue, which is then reused and bound with cement, generating an inorganic-organic composite. Among other improvements such as higher thermal insulation and strength, this process helps to reduce CO2 produced by traditional cement manufacturing.
Elin Premium Tights by Swedish Stockings
Swedish Stockings make sustainable hosiery that is shipped worldwide. Their 20 deniers Elin Premium tights are knitted with Econyl yarn, which is made from ocean and landfill waste such as fish nets. The tights are 100% emission free and knitted in the brand’s zero-waste-facility in Italy.
Waste Sorting Bins by EcoBins
The brand’s range of waste sorting bins – from paper to organic waste – are made of recycled, certified carbon neutral plastic. EcoBins are fully recyclable. By encouraging consumers with their minimalistic designs to separate their trash, the Australian brand strives to decrease damaging greenhouse gases and the production of virgin materials.
Recycled Wetsuits Yoga Mat by Suga
The US brand Suga manufactures premium quality yoga mats made from 100% recycled wetsuits. The non-biodegradable neoprene wetsuits present a unique challenge in regard to reduce the environmental footprint. So far, Suga has recycled over 12,000 wetsuits and counting.
by Marie Klimczak