Recycling involves the conversion of a waste into a usable material or resource.
The process of recycling includes the collection and sorting of recyclable materials, as well as the processing of those materials into products which can then be re-sold.
Separating recyclable items from household waste and leaving them at the kerbside for collection or taking them to a drop-off centre is only the first step in the recycling process. Recycling cannot be considered to have taken place until the resource recovered is reprocessed and re-used.
In its simplest form, the straight forward re-use of a waste product is often considered a form of recycling. The use of an old jar to store home-made jam, or the use of an empty milk carton as a tree planter to protect a seedling from the elements, are just two examples.
Recycling can also be a very complex process. It can involve:
- the collection of waste materials through kerbside collection or drop-off centres
- sorting of these materials at a Materials Recovery Facility (this is the name given to recycling centres)
- processing those materials into a form which can act as a substitute for virgin material (for example recycled glass cullet, or pelletised plastic)
- manufacturers using these sorted materials to make new and useful products.
Energy recovery, (or waste-to-energy) is another form of recycling which involves recovery of latent energy rather than a physical resource.
In many countries, energy recovery is considered equivalent to recycling and is practised widely, but it is not common in Australia.