eco ramblings

a dialogue with an Eco Patriot

The Definition of Recycling vs. Reclaiming and Recovering

Posted by Luke on March 3, 2010

I’ve recently come to find out that I’ve been misusing the term “recycling” for nearly my whole life.  If I misunderstood the term then I’m sure other consumers are in the same boat.  Here’s an attempt to help clarify the terms recycling and reclaiming (or recovering) which I’ll be using more of on this blog.

Recycling – (1) to process in order to regain material, (2) to adapt to a new use  (Webster)

What is misunderstood about this term is that people (myself included until a week ago) think recycling is the act of throwing their water bottles into a blue bin.  In fact, recycling occurs after the hauling company picks up the bottles (or “reclaims” or “recovers” the recyclables), and it occurs after the bottles are taken to a MRF (Materials Recovery Facility – note: “Recovery” in the name).  Recycling actually occurs at another facility where the bales of bottles are sent for washing, cleaning, grinding, chopping, and processing which then turns the bottles into little flakes of recycled material.  Those flakes can then be or reused in other products by melting the flakes into resin which is then molded into recycled products.  That is a lot to digest.

What this means is that “reclaiming” or “recovering” or “collecting” is more along the lines of what we are doing when we throw bottles in blue bins.  Us consumers and the hauling company “recover” and “collect” or “reclaim” the bottles.  The MRFs also “collect” and “recover” or “reclaim” the bottles.  The only people actually recycling are the companies who convert bottles to little flakes of recycled materials.  And like I said, those companies are most often different than the municipal recycling facilities where our bottles first go.

I hope that helps and feel free to drop me a line if this confuses you more or if you think I’m way off base.

Happy Recovering!

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