Recycling Process

Recycling Facts and Figures


Related Links


Recycling is a series of activities that includes collecting recyclable materials that would otherwise be considered waste, sorting and processing recyclables into raw materials such as fibers, and manufacturing raw materials into new products.

Recycling Process

Collecting and processing secondary materials, manufacturing recycled-content products, and then purchasing recycled products creates a circle or loop that ensures the overall success and value of recycling.

Step 1. Collection and Processing

Collecting recyclables varies from community to community, but there are four primary methods: curbside, drop-off centers, buy-back centers, and deposit/refund programs.

Regardless of the method used to collect the recyclables, the next leg of their journey is usually the same. Recyclables are sent to a materials recovery facility to be sorted and prepared into marketable commodities for manufacturing. Recyclables are bought and sold just like any other commodity, and prices for the materials change and fluctuate with the market.

Step 2. Manufacturing

Once cleaned and separated, the recyclables are ready to undergo the second part of the recycling loop. More and more of today's products are being manufactured with total or partial recycled content. Common household items that contain recycled materials include newspapers and paper towels; aluminum, plastic, and glass soft drink containers; steel cans; and plastic laundry detergent bottles. Recycled materials also are used in innovative applications such as recovered glass in roadway asphalt (glassphalt) or recovered plastic in carpeting, park benches, and pedestrian bridges.

Step 3. Purchasing Recycled Products

Purchasing recycled products completes the recycling loop. By "buying recycled," governments, as well as businesses and individual consumers, each play an important role in making the recycling process a success. As consumers demand more environmentally sound products, manufacturers will continue to meet that demand by producing high-quality recycled products. Learn more about recycling terminology and to find tips on identifying recycled products from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Recycling Facts and Figures

  • In 1999, recycling and composting activities prevented about 64 million tons of material from ending up in landfills and incinerators. Today, this country recycles 32 percent of its waste, a rate that has almost doubled during the past 15 years.
  • While recycling has grown in general, recycling of specific materials has grown even more drastically: 50 percent of all paper, 34 percent of all plastic soft drink bottles, 45 percent of all aluminum beer and soft drink cans, 63 percent of all steel packaging, and 67 percent of all major appliances are now recycled.
  • Twenty years ago, only one curbside recycling program existed in the United States, which collected several materials at the curb. By 2005, almost 9,000 curbside programs had sprouted up across the nation. As of 2005, about 500 materials recovery facilities had been established to process the collected materials.


For recycling to work, everyone has to participate in each phase of the loop. From government and industry, to organizations, small businesses, and people at home, every American can make recycling a part of their daily routine. Below are some ways in which businesses, local governments, and citizens can get involved:

Local Governments
  • Recycle at home. Find out if there is a recycling program in your community. If so, participate in the program by separating and putting out your recyclables for curbside pickup or taking them to your local drop-off or buy-back center.
  • Shop smarter. Use products in containers that can be recycled in your community and items that can be repaired or reused. Also, support recycling markets by buying and using products made from recycled materials.
  • Recycle on the Go! Look for recycling places in public spaces. If you can't find a recycling place, ask the responsible authority to look into installing one so you can recycle on the go.

Related Links

  • The MSW Programs page lists a variety of EPA recycling-related programs.
  • The EPA has compiled a list of recycling-related publications

Aluminum Association
900 19th St. NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC 20006
Phone: 202 862-5100
Fax: 202 862-5164

American Forest and Paper Association
1111 19th Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20036
Phone: 202 463-2700

American Plastics Council
1801 K Street, NW, Suite 701-L
Washington, DC 20006-1301
Phone: 800-2-HELP-90

Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers
1300 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22209
Phone: 703- 741-5578
Fax: 703-741-5646

Container Recycling Institute
89 East Lake Shore Trail
Glastonbury, CT 06033
Phone: 202-263-0999

Glass Packaging Institute
740 East 52nd Street
Indianapolis, IN 46205
Phone: 317 283-1603
Fax: 317 923-9906

Institute for Local Self-Reliance
2425 18th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
Phone: 202 232-4108
Fax: 202 332-0463

Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries
1325 G Street, NW, Suite 1000
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202 737-1770
Fax: 202 626-0900

National Association for PET Container Resources (NAPCOR)
PO Box 1327
Sonoma, CA 95476
Phone: (707) 996-4207
Fax: (707) 935-1998

National Recycling Coalition
1727 King Street, Suite 105
Alexandria, VA 22314-2720
Phone: 703 683-9025
Fax: 703 683-9026

Polystyrene Packaging Council
1801 K Street NW, Suite 600K
Washington, DC 20006-1301
Phone: 202 974-5321
Fax: 202 296-7354

Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation
1000 Parkwood Circle
Suite 450
Atlanta, GA 30339
Phone: 678-419-9990
Fax: 678-419-9986

Steel Recycling Institute
680 Andersen Drive
Pittsburgh, PA 15220-2700
Phone: 412 922-2772, 800 876-7274
Fax: 412 922-3213

Other related solid waste organizations

Information Courtesy of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
8195 Front Beach Road Panama City Beach, FL 32407 Station: 850-234-7777 News: 850-230-5221 Fax: 850-233-6647
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