Closing the loop: from your recycling bin back to you

Recycling is a continuous process, which is shown by the three arrows of the recycling symbol. By purchasing products made from recycled materials, you are “closing the loop.” Products made from recycled materials are called recycled-content products, and the availability, variety and quality of these products is improving.

How does a recycled-content product make it to the store? The cycle starts in your own home or business.

closing the loop illustrationFirst, you collect recyclables, such as newspapers, aluminum cans and plastic bottles, and place them at the curb or take them to your local drop-off center. From there, the materials are delivered to a recycling facility, where they are shredded, pelletized or otherwise prepared to be sold to a manufacturing company.

Some materials are made into new versions of the same products. For example, an old newspaper will be used in a new newspaper and an old glass bottle can become a new glass bottle. However, many recyclables become ingredients used to make different products. For example, glass bottles are also used in insulation and plastic bottles can be used in carpet, park benches and fleece clothing.

Finally, it all comes back to you when you decide to buy recycled-content products. This creates a demand for recyclable materials and sends a strong message to manufacturers that we do not want more trash in our landfills.


When looking for recycled-content products, keep in mind that many products contain a mix of recycled and new materials.  Even the type of recycled content can vary:

  • Post-consumer recycled content includes material that was used by consumers or businesses for its intended purpose and then diverted or recovered by recycling. These are the recyclables that you put in your bin.
  • Pre-consumer recycled content is material that is recycled before it reaches the consumer.  For example, a paper mill might recycle its scrap paper before it ever leaves the plant.

The Federal Trade Commission requires that labels on recycled products tell where the recycled material came from. When shopping, look for the chasing arrows on the products you buy and read the label to identify the recycled content. Look for the products with highest percent of post-consumer recycled content. And as always, learn more at!

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