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Making products from recycled materials usually requires less energy than making them from new raw materials. This is because the products being recycled don’t need to be extracted, and or usually require much less stages of processing to turn them into usable materials. Sometimes it is a huge difference! For example, producing new aluminium from old products uses 95% less energy than making it from scratch. Exactly how much energy is saved depends on the material in question.
The UK (and wider world) is currently facing an ‘energy crisis’. According to the National Grid's winter outlook, rolling blackouts in the UK are unlikely but due to the pressures on gas supplies in Europe brought on by the war in Ukraine, power cuts are more likely than previous years. So perhaps, more than ever, there is a need to recycle materials wherever possible to help alleviate the stress on our national grid. Here is a quick guide to how much energy can be saved by recycling different materials.
The largest energy savings achieved by recycling are generally for metals, which are often easy to recycle and otherwise typically need to be produced by energy-intensive mining and processing of ore. For example, energy savings from beryllium recycling are 80%, lead 75%, iron and steel 72%, and cadmium 50%.
The chances are your recycling bin is predominantly filled with plastic. 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. UK households use 13 billion plastic bottles a year, including beverage bottles, milk bottles and toiletry bottles. Most plastic bottles are made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate), whilst milk and toiletry bottles are more usually made from HDPE (high density polyethylene). Of the 13 billion plastic bottles used each year, it is estimated that 7.7 billion are plastic water bottles. It is estimated that just 1 PET plastic bottle can save sufficient energy to run a 60W lightbulb for 6-hours!
Though paper is far more biodegradable than many other materials, it still entails an expensive and labour-intensive process. Using recycled paper means that manufacturers can cut out the steps of cutting down trees to make fresh wood pulp to be processed into fibre. Though manufacturing techniques are varied, the Environmental Protection Agency claims that the process of manufacturing recycled paper uses 40% less energy than creating it from fresh wood pulp. But if you consider 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 currently 34p per kWh, representing a saving of around £1,360.
Glass recycling makes less impressive energy savings than other materials, since melting it down takes enormously high temperatures, using lots of energy. Even still, recycled glass uses 30% less energy than making it from raw materials, due to impact of extracting and hauling minerals used to make virgin glass - one recycled bottle can save enough energy to power a laptop for 25 minutes. Also, it takes an astonishing 1 million years to break down naturally, so it makes sense to reuse or recycle it where possible – or simply reduce your use.
Recycling helps conserve important raw materials and protects natural habitats for the future. It also reduces greenhouse gas emissions, which helps to tackle climate change. Current UK recycling is estimated to save more than 18 million tonnes of CO2 a year – the equivalent to taking 5 million cars off the road. Recycling also reduces the amount of waste sent to landfill, which in 2001 produced a quarter of the UK’s emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.
J&B Recycling are based in the North of England. Our commercial collection services operate from the Scottish Borders down to Hull and North Yorkshire. Our main areas for collecting and processing commercial waste include Teesside (Darlington, Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, Stockton), Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside and Northumberland. Get in touch for more information and to request a quote.