Recycled materials are products or substances that have been collected from waste or discarded items and processed to create new usable materials.
These materials have previously served their intended purpose and have undergone reprocessing to extend their lifespan and reduce the need for virgin resources.
5% - 38% - 31% is the percentage of plastic recycled in the United States (2021), European Union (2020) and China (2020), respectively.
The numbers indicate the effort of recycling has been noticed in parts of the world while distributed unevenly across the world. The numbers are relatively low implying high potential and space for improvement, but require efforts.
By using recycled materials, industries decrease the need for extracting and processing virgin resources like minerals, metals, and timber. This helps conserve natural resources, such as forests, minerals, and fossil fuels, reducing environmental impact and habitat destruction.
The production of recycled materials typically consumes less energy compared to manufacturing new materials from scratch. For example, aluminum is an energy-intensive material to produce from its primary source, bauxite ore.
Utilizing recycled materials diverts waste from landfills, which in turn helps conserve valuable landfill space and prolong the life of existing landfill sites. For example, recycling plastic bottles diverts a significant portion of plastic waste away from landfills. Instead of being discarded in landfills and taking hundreds of years to decompose, these bottles are collected, processed, and transformed into new plastic items.
High-quality recycled materials may have limited availability.
For example, in the construction industry, there is limited availability of high-quality recycled steel reinforcement bars (rebar). Rebar is essential for reinforcing concrete structures. While recycled rebar is eco-friendly and in demand, the supply may be constrained because it relies on the availability of scrap steel from demolished buildings or structures. This limited supply can pose challenges for construction projects that prioritize recycled materials. (4)
May not meet all material property requirements.
For example, certain products high-end cosmetics or pharmaceuticals, demand packaging materials with exceptional clarity and transparency to showcase the product's quality. Recycled plastics may have inherent variations in transparency due to their source materials, making them less suitable for such applications.
In such cases, manufacturers may opt for virgin plastics that offer consistent optical properties and meet the stringent quality standards required for premium packaging. (5)
Industries may face technical challenges in incorporating recycled materials.
For example, the electronics industry faces challenges when integrating recycled materials into high-tech devices. Recycled metals, such as those from electronic waste (e-waste), need to meet strict purity and quality standards to ensure product reliability. Achieving these standards can be technically challenging and may require advanced recycling techniques.
Recycling processes can be expensive.
For example, in the furniture manufacturing industry, recycled wood can be costlier to produce compared to using new wood. Recycling wood involves cleaning, de-nailing, and re-milling, which require energy, labor, and specialized equipment. These processes contribute to higher production costs, impacting the overall affordability of eco-friendly furniture. (6)
Competition from cheaper virgin materials can affect competitiveness.
For example, in the packaging industry, manufacturers often face competition from products made with virgin plastics, which can be cheaper due to the availability of abundant raw materials.
Recycled plastic packaging may be priced slightly higher due to the recycling process and limited supply of high-quality recycled plastic. This price difference can impact a product's competitiveness in the market, particularly in price-sensitive segments.
14. Handbook of Recycling State-of-the-art for Practitioners, Analysts, and Scientists - https://www.sciencedirect.com/book/9780123964595/handbook-of-recycling