Recycling - Closing the Loop

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Cans ready for recycling

Charlottesville is committed to reducing waste and increasing recycling.

An expansive curbside recycling program in the city resulted in over 2,000 tons collected in 2006 alone.  In 2007, Charlottesville City schools embarked on an innovative recycling program.  In addition, each fall, about 2,000 tons of leaves are collected and composted locally. 

Efforts continue to increase the recycling rate. 



Recycling prevents the emission of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants, saves energy, supplies valuable raw materials to industry, creates jobs, stimulates the development of greener technologies, conserves resources for our children's future, and reduces the need for new landfills and combustors


Critical goals for overall waste reduction are conservation and reuse.  When materials are kept out of the waste stream entirely, less energy is needed to collect and reprocess it.  It is therefore important to try and buy back the products which have recycled content in them. This closes the loop, or completes the recycling cycle. 


Recycling paper slows the harvesting of trees, which are essential to processing carbon in the air


Landfill Site

If you examine a recycled product you may read 40% recycled with 20% post-consumer content.  'Post consumer' is the important part.  It essentially means that the material has been used in the community, collected back and transformed into a new product. 

Industries often recycle scrap from their processing lines - paper cuttings and sawdust for example, all of this is reused and recycled as it makes good business sense, whereas the post-consumer percentage has actually been reused from the community and actually prevented from going to landfill.



Recycling used aluminum cans requires only about 5% of the energy needed to produce aluminum from bauxite*


How are Items Recycled?

When you leave your single stream collection bin out in the City - for magazines, paper, glass and plastic goods, they are collected and taken to a waste management facility in Richmond.  Various processes are used - including conveyor sorting and hand sorting - to separate out all of the goods.  They are then passed on to recycling firms for reuse. 


Recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect global climate. In 1996, recycling of solid waste in the United States prevented the release of 33 million tons of carbon into the air-roughly the amount emitted annually by 25 million cars*



Recycling plastic bottles

Reusing and Recycling Plastics

The production and use of plastics has a range of environmental impacts.

Firstly, plastics production requires significant quantities of resources, primarily fossil fuels, both as a raw material and to deliver energy for the manufacturing process. 

It is estimated that 4% of the world's annual oil production is used as a feedstock for plastics production and an additional 3-4% during manufacture.*

In addition, the manufacture of plastics requires other resources such as water, and also produces waste and emissions.  The overall environmental impact varies according to the type of plastic and the production method employed, but most plastics production also involves the use of potentially harmful chemicals, which are added as stabilizers or colorants.

Once used, the disposal of these plastic products contributes significantly to their environmental impact.  Because most plastics are non-degradable, they take a long time to break down, possibly up to hundreds of years when they are landfilled.


In 2006, 11.7% of all waste in the US was plastic - that equates to 29.5 million tons*


With more and more plastics products being disposed of soon after their purchase, in the case of packaging for instance, the landfill space required by plastics waste is a growing concern.

Reusing plastic is preferable to recycling as it uses less energy and fewer resources. For example using one strong shopping bag over the period of time rather than one supermarket bag for each item, each trip. 

There are many types of plastic in common use. Plastic must be sorted by type for recycling since each type melts at a different temperature and displays different properties.

The plastics industry has developed codes to label different types of plastic. The identification system divides plastic into seven distinct types and uses a number code generally found on the bottom of containers.  Each reference number refers to the properties of that particular plastic polymer, and is often surrounded by a pyramid of arrows. Numbers 1, 2, and 6 are the most-often recycled plastics in the United States.  


It takes 25 two litre plastic drinks bottles to make just one fleece garment*


The table below shows the main plastic types, and their common uses.

Plastic Type     General Properties Common Uses


PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate)

Clear, hard, tough, solvent resistant, good gas and moisture barrier properties and high heat resistance    
  • Fizzy drink, water and beer bottles
  • Boil in the bag pouches
  • Fibre for clothing and carpets


HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

Hard to semi flexible, strong, soft waxy surface, permeable to gas
  • Packaging for household and industrial chemicals
  • Grocery bags
  • Snack food packaging and cereal box liners
  • milk and non-carbonated drinks bottles
  • toys
  • garden furniture
  • crates and signs


PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Excellent transparency, hard, rigid, good weathering ability, stable electrical properties and low gas permeability
  • Pipes and fittings, such as window frames
  • Frozen food packaging
  • Carpet backing
  • Credit cards
  • Wire and cable sheathing
  • Synthetic leather products


LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene)

Tough, flexible, waxy surface, soft - scratches easily, low melting point        
  • Trash bags, garment and produce bags
  • Bubble wrap
  • Flexible lids and some bottle tops
  • Irrigation pipes


PP (Polypropylene)

High melting point, hard but flexible, waxy surface, translucent, strong
  • Flexible and rigid packaging, such as ketchup bottles
  • Most bottle tops
  • Large molded parts for automotive and consumer items


PS (Polystyrene)

Glossy surface, rigid, hard, brittle, affected by fats and solvents
  • Fast food trays and vending cups
  • Disposable cutlery
  • DVD cases
  • Low cost brittle toys
  • This plastic can be foamed to produce egg boxes, hot drink cups and protective packaging for fragile items



These polymers have a wide range of uses - often in the engineering sector.  A common example is nylon.  Plastic items that are layered, or have a mix of plastic types also fall into this category.

Tips on Reducing Plastic Waste

At the checkout

  • Choose goods with minimal packaging
  • Try to reduce the need to throw away plastics. For example, take a reusable shopping bag to the supermarket, or re-use the bags you were given last time.  Don't accept a bag if you don't need one.
  • Rather than throwing them away, give plastic toys or containers to children's playgroups for reuse.
  • Use plastic containers and bags again or make them into something else. For example use yoghurt pots to grow seedlings. 
  • Buy products that are refillable. Consider refilling your plastic water bottle from the tap.
  • Think of ways of reducing the need for packaging. Don't add extra packaging yourself - a melon, a grapefruit or a bunch of bananas already has natural packaging - does it need to go in a plastic bag as well as your shopping bag? Does that already efficiently packaged dairy product or piece of meat really need another wrapper?
  • Look for products made from recycled plastic, also look out for products packaged in at least partially recycled material.