How Much Energy Does Recycling Save?

30th Jun 2021

Whether you’re trying to be more eco-conscious at home or in your business, you’ve probably wondered how much of a difference recycling really makes. Recycling certainly reduces the amount of waste ending up in landfill, and encourages people to reuse valuable resources. Fortunately, recycling is more popular than ever, with QCR’s recycling guide reporting that 104 million tonnes of waste was recycled in the UK in 2017.

One seldom appreciated benefit of recycling, however, is drastically reduced energy costs for manufacturers. Using raw materials to create new products is incredibly costly, compared to working with already existing materials. Here’s an idea of just how much energy is saved.

Aluminium

On its discovery, aluminum was more expensive than gold or silver, but today, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, the US discards in just 3 months enough aluminium to rebuild the entire American commercial air fleet. Aluminium was one of the first materials to be recycled and continues to be one of the most cost- and energy-efficient materials to reuse.

Being a robust and versatile material that can be recycled many, many times over and with very little processing, aluminium scrap can be melted down and easily added to new aluminium stock. This stock is derived from fresh bauxite ore. Making a can from recycled aluminium, however, uses less than 5% of the energy required to make from scratch.

How much energy is saved? The Aluminum Association confirms that a single recycled aluminium can saves enough energy to power a TV for 4 hours, or a laptop for a whopping 11 hours. 

Plastic

Chances are your recycling bin is predominantly filled with this material. There are many different types, with only some being recyclable. If not recycled, these man-made polymers can take hundreds if not thousands of years to degrade naturally, but less than half of plastic used in the UK is ever recycled, with most of it sadly ending up in landfill.

Though there is now a 5p carrier bag tax and many supermarkets are making efforts to cut down on plastic packaging use, there is still a long way to go. At home, people can be sure to wash, sort and recycle plastic waste, as well as simply avoid purchasing it in the first place. In business, companies are sourcing from greener supply chains, using less plastic packaging, and using baling machines to sort and compact waste.

How much energy is saved? The oil needed to create a single plastic shopping bag could power a car to drive for 11 metres. Given that the UK uses 13 billion carrier bags annually (yes, even after the carrier bag tax), that translates to 143 million additional kilometers – enough to drive around the entire earth 3500 times.

Paper

Recycling paper saves energy, trees, water, and carbon dioxide emissions – and it’s easy to do. Paper and cardboard can be pulped down again and reworked into the cycle, saving manufacturers from having to source and process virgin wood. Though paper is far more biodegradable than other materials on this list, it nevertheless entails an expensive and labor-intensive process. Using recycled paper means that manufacturers can cut out the step where fresh wood pulp is created and processed. This simultaneously reduces waste and spares additional trees from being cut. Recycling paper needs only about half as much water – which could be used to grow more trees!

How much energy is saved? Though manufacturing techniques are varied, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that recycled paper manufacture uses 40% less energy than creating it from fresh wood pulp. But if one considers the saved trees which in turn sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the overall environmental impact is far greater.

Supplying an office with one tonne of recycled paper can save up to 4000 kilowatt hours compared to using the same amount of virgin wood paper. The Department for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy claims the average cost of electricity in the UK is 17.2p per kWh, representing a savings of around £700.

Glass

Glass is robust and versatile, but it unfortunately requires huge amounts of energy to melt it down to a usable state. Glass will take an astonishing 1 million years to break down in a landfill, so it makes sense to reuse or recycle it where possible – or simply reduce your use. Glass crushers recycling makes less impressive energy savings than other materials, since melting it down takes enormously high temperatures in both cases.

How much energy is saved? Even still, recycled glass uses 30% less energy than making it from raw materials. One recycled bottle can save enough energy to power a laptop for 25 minutes.

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