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  • Recycling

    Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. It is an alternative to "conventional" waste disposal that can save material and help lower greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling can prevent the waste of potentially useful materials and reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, thereby reducing: energy usage, air pollution (from incineration), and water pollution (from landfilling).

    Recyclable materials include many kinds of glass, paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, tires, textiles, batteries, and electronics. The composting or other reuse of biodegradable waste´such as food or garden waste´is also a form of recycling. Materials to be recycled are either delivered to a household recycling center or picked up from curbside bins, then sorted, cleaned, and reprocessed into new materials destined for manufacturing new products.

    Industrialization spurred demand for affordable materials; aside from rags, ferrous scrap metals were coveted as they were cheaper to acquire than virgin ore. Railroads both purchased and sold scrap metal in the 19th century, and the growing steel and automobile industries purchased scrap in the early 20th century. Many secondary goods were collected, processed and sold by peddlers who scoured dumps and city streets for discarded machinery, pots, pans, and other sources of metal. By World War I, thousands of such peddlers roamed the streets of American cities, taking advantage of market forces to recycle post-consumer materials back into industrial production.

    A considerable investment in recycling occurred in the 1970s, due to rising energy costs. Recycling aluminum uses only 5% of the energy required by virgin production; glass, paper and other metals have less dramatic but very significant energy savings when recycled feedstock is used.

    In 2018, changes in the recycling market have sparked a global "crisis" in the industry. On December 31, 2017, China announced its "National Sword" policy, setting new standards for imports of recyclable material and banning materials that were deemed too "dirty" or "hazardous". The new policy caused drastic disruptions in the global market in recycling and reduced the prices of scrap plastic and low-grade paper. Exports of recyclable materials from G7 countries to China dropped dramatically, with many exports shifting to countries in southeast Asia. The crisis generated significant concern about the practices and environmental sustainability of the recycling industry. The abrupt shift caused countries to accept more recyclable materials than they could process, raising fundamental questions about shipping recycling waste from economically developed countries to countries with few environmental regulations—a practice that predated the crisis.

    Container deposit legislation involves offering a refund for the return of certain containers, typically glass, plastic, and metal. When a product in such a container is purchased, a small surcharge is added to the price. This surcharge can be reclaimed by the consumer if the container is returned to a collection point. These programs have been very successful, often resulting in an 80 percent recycling rate. Despite such good results, the shift in collection costs from local government to industry and consumers has created strong opposition to the creation of such programs in some areas. A variation on this is where the manufacturer bears responsibility for the recycling of their goods. In the European Union, the WEEE Directive requires producers of consumer electronics to reimburse the recyclers' costs.

    Both minimum recycled content mandates and utilization rates increase demand directly by forcing manufacturers to include recycling in their operations. Content mandates specify that a certain percentage of a new product must consist of recycled material. Utilization rates are a more flexible option: industries are permitted to meet the recycling targets at any point of their operation or even contract recycling out in exchange for tradeable credits. Opponents to both of these methods point to the large increase in reporting requirements they impose, and claim that they rob the industry of necessary flexibility.

    The quality of recyclate not only supports high-quality recycling, but it can also deliver significant environmental benefits by reducing, reusing and keeping products out of landfills. High-quality recycling can help support growth in the economy by maximizing the economic value of the waste material collected. Higher income levels from the sale of quality recyclates can return value which can be significant to local governments, households, and businesses. Pursuing high-quality recycling can also provide consumer and business confidence in the waste and resource management sector and may encourage investment in that sector.

    Curbside collection encompasses many subtly different systems, which differ mostly on where in the process the recyclates are sorted and cleaned. The main categories are mixed waste collection, commingled recyclables, and source separation. A waste collection vehicle generally picks up the waste.

    Once commingled recyclates are collected and delivered to a central collection facility, the different types of materials must be sorted. This is done in a series of stages, many of which involve automated processes such that a truckload of material can be fully sorted in less than an hour. Some plants can now sort the materials automatically, known as single-stream recycling. In plants, a variety of materials is sorted such as paper, different types of plastics, glass, metals, food scraps, and most types of batteries. A 30 percent increase in recycling rates has been seen in the areas where these plants exist.

    Strong magnets are used to separate out ferrous metals, such as iron, steel, and tin cans. Non-ferrous metals are ejected by magnetic eddy currents in which a rotating magnetic field induces an electric current around the aluminum cans, which in turn creates a magnetic eddy current inside the cans. This magnetic eddy current is repulsed by a large magnetic field, and the cans are ejected from the rest of the recyclate stream.