Can Materials Be Recycled Endlessly? A Plea for Zero Waste

Can Materials Be Recycled Endlessly? A Plea for Zero Waste

For years, Tom and I have been separating our waste to the best of our ability. But can materials be recycled endlessly? And do we separate our waste correctly?

It is complicated that countries and even regions have different ways of separating waste.

In addition, there are sometimes urban stories about how eventually all the waste ends up back together and that separation does not work out.

And finally, it also turns out that certain materials cannot be recycled endlessly.

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Can materials be recycled endlessly?

Some materials can be recycled endlessly, others cannot. Furthermore, we can do a lot about the correct separation of waste, because potentially reusable materials still end up in the landfill due to incorrect separation.

Waste sorting

The bottoms of glass bottles as a ceiling

When I realize how much can go wrong when separating waste I become even more fanatical about trying to live without waste.

The Zero Waste movement is a great development. Admittedly, for busy households with demanding jobs for both parents, zero waste is much harder to achieve than for someone like me who is retired.

But we can all do our best. That is so much better than saying demotivated that the neighbor and that other country and those large multinationals should first put things in order.

Paper and cardboard

When we were young, scouts and football amateurs collected the old paper because they got money for it. That is not the case anymore because the old paper is worth nothing. The scouts have been replaced by blue containers.

Click a Tree, the easiest way to plant trees
Click a Tree, the easiest way to plant trees

I used to throw every scrap of paper in the paper bin. The receipts, printed on thermal paper, as well. Even leftover food or grease stains didn’t stop me from doing my good deed.

Unfortunately, separating paper waste in this way is counterproductive because it pollutes a whole batch of old paper.

We also probably shouldn’t put recycled paper in the blue bin. Paper is made up of fibers and with each recycling, those fibers shorten. This results in a lower quality recycled paper and can cause problems in our printers.

Plasticized paper and cardboard, such as milk cartons, cannot be recycled and do not belong in the blue bin.

Related: 5 Eco-Friendly Reasons why we Should Buy Recycled Toilet Paper


Free the ocean of plastic
Play Free the Ocean‘s game every day for free and fund the removal of plastic

Plastic is a problem in itself. Apart from the plastic ocean soup, it is quite a job to separate plastic in such a way that something can be done with it afterward.

Strangely enough, here in Spain we also have to put the cans and aluminum waste in the same yellow bin as the plastic waste. All that waste must then be assessed to enable further separation.

It then depends on the type of plastic whether it can be processed and how often. Plastic can have a different composition so it’s divided into 7 categories. 

The categories with numbers 1, 2, and 5 are processed. The numbers 3, 4, and 6 are sometimes processed, depending on the rules of the respective municipality. The number 7 is never processed.

Try to make it easier for the processors by first collecting small pieces of plastic (provided they have the same number) into a fist-sized amount.

Related: Is Plastic Really a Problem? (Probably Not, but Something Else is)


Conscientious shopping?

Just like with plastic, the biggest problem with textiles is that there are so many different types. Natural materials, plastics, and all kinds of mixes.

And just as with plastic, the carbon footprint of our clothing is enormous.

I always cut the labels out of my clothes without realizing that that would make recycling even more difficult. The composition of mixes is hardly visible to the eye.

Of all waste streams, the recycling of textiles reduces CO2 emissions most significantly. In comparison, 1 kilo of glass reduces CO2 emissions by 323 grams while 1 kilo of textiles reduces CO2 emissions by 3,432 grams. There would be a 425 million kilos reduction in CO2 emissions if nobody threw away textiles. That’s the equivalent of 2,250 million kilometers driven by cars. (Source: OneWorld)

Recycled clothing is not always made into new clothing. The better quality paper is also made from rags.

Related: How Clothing and Health are Related in Unusual Ways

Metal and aluminum

Good news: metal and aluminum can be recycled indefinitely.

Small waste, such as cans and aluminum foil, can be placed in the yellow bin. Large pieces like old bicycles and demolition waste can usually be taken to the environmental park of a municipality.


Sometimes there is only 1 glass container at the environmental point, but in some places, there are more, which are divided into transparent and colored glass.

Glass can be recycled indefinitely. Another advantage is that it does not matter whether there are still food residues in the glass or whether the glass has a metal lid on it.

Windows and mirrors do not fit in the glass container and will have to be taken to the environmental center.

Banana peel

Kitchen waste

Vegetable peelings, coffee and tea grounds, eggshells, and that kind of kitchen waste can easily be composted yourself. Even if you only have a balcony at your disposal.

In some municipalities, in addition to a blue and yellow container, a green one is available for vegetable, fruit, and garden waste.

Related: How to Start Organic Composting at Home Immediately


E-waste is composed of all kinds of parts and materials and is therefore difficult to recycle yourself. Usually, you can take this type of waste to the environmental center of the municipality.

Related: 9 Tips on How to Recycle E-Waste Safely and Sustainable

Household goods

The recycling frequency is limited for some materials

The same applies to household waste as to e-waste. Furniture and the like go to the environmental center where it can be determined whether they are still good enough to be refurbished.

Unusable waste

Everything that is left after the recyclable part has ended up in the right place, (unfortunately) goes to the garbage dump. It will remain there for years because most of it will hardly decompose. In the worst-case scenario, it is even burned, releasing the rubbish into the air.

Recycling waste or trying to avoid it?

If we realize how difficult the separation and handling of waste is, we get all the more motivated to try to live without waste, don’t we?

A world without packaging and broken items, and therefore without waste, is almost unimaginable. But there are bound to be solutions.

Do you recycle? Tell us in the comment box below.

2 thoughts on “Can Materials Be Recycled Endlessly? A Plea for Zero Waste”

  1. I think that recycling is an important step to look after our environment but it isn’t enough. We need to do more. Where I live we don’t have bins for plastic or aluminnum but I am saving glass bottles for my building project. I want to use them to make a wall in my bathroom. I take the aluminum cans to be recycled. Egg shells are added to dog food (good for the skin) and for compost. A few days ago I also bought fabric bags for vegetables when I go grocery shopping, so I don’t have to use plastic anymore.
    I didn’t realize how much of an impact clothing had. I often buy my clothes second hand. There’s a lovely second hand store in town that sells good quality and even expensive brand clothes at cheap prices.

    • Brilliant, Christine, a glass wall in your bathroom. Are you saving all the colors or specific ones? I have seen several walls and cupolas made of glass bottles. It looks great.

      Aren’t you lucky to have a second-hand store in a town nearby? We had one but it is closed. And by the looks of it, there are no signs of reopening soon. I still have hopes it will be open again after the pandemic is solved.

      Thanks for your comment and stay healthy.


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