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Recycling is a three-step process – that’s why the recycling symbol has three chasing arrows:

RecycleStep 1: Collection, when you put your recyclables in the recycling bin or take them to a recycling collection site.
Step 2: Manufacturing, when your recyclables are processed into raw materials for new products
Step 3: Buying Recycled, when you buy products from recycled materials.
Recycling will only work when all three steps occur; that’s why it’s commonly referred to as “closing the loop.”
You aren’t really recycling unless you are buying recycled. Buying recycled means purchasing items that are made from recycled materials – materials that were used once, recycled and made into something else.

Buyer Beware: Recycled Content vs. Recyclable

Not all products marked with the recycling symbol or that make claims such as "environmentally friendly," "eco-safe," "safe for the environment," or "natural" are made with recycled content or can be recycled in your community.


When shopping, look for labels indicating the item contains recycled content and know the basic definitions:

  • Recycled-content products: Made from materials that have been recovered or diverted from the waste stream. These include products made from used, reconditioned and remanufactured products and components.
  • Post-consumer content: Indicates that materials used to make a product were recovered from the waste stream after consumer use. Example: Office paper that has been recycled and converted into cardboard boxes or newsprint.
  • Pre-consumer content: Refers to excess material generated during manufacturing, not recycled by consumers. Example: Print overruns, over issue publications and obsolete inventories.
  • Recyclable: Indicates that these can be recycled and used in the form of raw materials to make new products. These products do not necessarily contain recycled materials and only benefit the process if you recycle them after use. Careful, even though it is labeled recyclable, you can only recycle it if it is collected for recycling in your county.
  • Recycled Products You Can Buy

    Buying recycled is easier than you think. Most retailers carry recycled-content products at competitive prices. The list of recycled-content products is seemingly endless. Some examples of products made with recycled materials:


    Home and Office

  • Paper products - cereal, cake mix and cracker boxes, facial tissues, toilet paper, paper towels, napkins, writing paper, and greeting cards
  • Plastic bags, detergent bottles, and cleaning supplies
  • Copier and printer paper, envelopes
  • Notepads, legal pads, folders and binders
  • Transparencies
  • Toner cartridges (recharged)
  • Bulletin boards
  • Pens, pencils, scissors, and rulers
  • Corrugated cardboard containers, shipping mailers
  • Polystyrene peanuts, air bubble cushioning material
  • Garden hoses, compost bins
  • Mulch and compost
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Building and Construction Materials

  • Plastic lumber for landscaping, decks, parking stops, benches, and picnic tables
  • Steel framing for construction
  • Aluminum gutter, down spouts, siding
  • Roofing, wallboard, wallpaper, and flooring
  • Insulation
  • Paint
  • Carpeting, tiles, and mats
  • Playground equipment
  • Automobiles (the average automobile has 44% recycled steel content)
  • Re-refined oil
  • Retreaded tires
  • Used/rebuilt parts 
  • Advantages of Buying Recycled

    Buying recycled saves energy. It usually takes less energy to make a new product out of an old product. Example: It takes about 95 percent less energy to make a new aluminum can out of recycled aluminum than newly extracted natural resources (bauxite ore).

    Buying recycled protects the environment. In most cases, making products from recycled materials creates less air and water pollution than making them from newly extracted natural resources.

    Buying recycled saves landfill space and reduces the need to build landfills and incinerators.

    Buying recycled saves money and creates jobs.
    The recycling process creates far more jobs than landfills or incinerators and recycling often is the least expensive waste management option.