Closed loop recycling is the process where post-consumer waste is collected, recycled and used to make new products. But in the closed loop all participants should work together to make sure that the flow continues. In the example of recycling aluminum cans, the consumer purchases beverage cans that are made from recycled material, and they consume the contents. The can is then collected from the consumer as part of their normal recycling pickup, and then combined with other aluminum cans to create raw materials which are sold to the manufacturer, who in turn produces new cans, made from recycled materials.
How to Make Closed Loop Recycling Work
The easiest way to make a closed loop system to work is to recycle every item that can be recycled, ensure that the manufacturers want to purchase post-consumer recycled material, and that the customer wants to buy products made from recycled material. These assumptions are not always possible to achieve and the closed loop is difficult to attain. However some materials, such as aluminum and glass, can be recycled indefinitely and these materials offer the best chance of closed loop recycling.
Glass recycling has been working for decades. Bottles were used where there was a deposit paid on the bottle so that it was returned, or milk bottles that were picked up daily by the milkman. An estimated eighty percent of collected glass is recycled and used to make more glass containers. The Glass Packaging Institute estimates that in California, almost eighty percent of glass containers are recycled, whereas nationally the figure is closer to fifty percent, but that glass bottles and jars are totally recyclable and can be recycled endlessly without any loss in purity or quality. Glass container manufacturers set a goal that by 2013 there would have fifty percent recycled content in the products they produce.
Aluminum recycling has been as successful as glass recycling, with an estimated 68 percent of each aluminum can sold in the US is made from recycled materials. Two thirds of the aluminum ever produced is still in the processing cycle today. However still a large amount of aluminum is placed in landfills which recyclers calculate is as much as $600 million each year. For the closed loop system to work those items need to be collected not disposed of.
Other Closed Loop Recycling
Companies are trying to make closed loop systems of more specific items. The car manufacturer, Mazda, has developed a process where they can recycle the fenders from vehicles that are being scrapped and make them into new fenders for new vehicles. The company has been designing their vehicles with recycling in mind, and since the 1990's the company had designed its fenders to be more recyclable. Mazda developed technology where they can recycle used fenders from vehicles, into raw plastic resin for use in new vehicle fenders. Their technology allows the plastic from any age of vehicle to be combined to produce new items.
Another car manufacturers, Ford, has plans to use a polyester seat fabric in its vehicles that is created from a blend of recycled materials, including post-industrial fiber waste and post-consumer PET plastic bottles. By using this fabric used from recycled plastic bottles, the company says it can divert 2 million plastic bottles from going to landfills.
Shaw Industries, the leading floor covering manufacturer, is an example of a company that saw that consumers wanted a greener product and delivered it. In 2003 they introduced a recyclable carpet tile that can be recycled into new carpet tiles at its end of life, thus saving carpet from being sent to landfills.
Even small companies are creating a closed loop. A small dog toy manufacturer called West Paw encourages consumers to return used dog toys, dog beds, apparel and other items to the company so that they can be reprocessed into making new items.