Recycling Definition, Steps, Importance and Materials Explained

Recycling is the act of restoring or rehabilitating used or damaged materials in order to make them usable. This article discusses recycling definition, steps, importance, and materials, as outlined below;


-Recycling Definition: 7 Ways to Define Recycling

-Steps in the Process of Recycling

-Importance of Recycling

-Examples of Materials that Can be Recycled




Recycling Definition: 7 Ways to Define Recycling

Recycling is simply the process or act of transforming waste to valuable materials.

An alternative recycling definition can be given in terms of the energy dynamics involved, as follows;

Recycling is a process of energy recovery, whereby unusable materials are rehabilitated in order to prevent energy losses [7].

With regards to energy dynamics, some studies have associated recycling with energy-based concepts like energy conservation, energy management and energy efficiency [4].

It is especially relevant in the context of renewable energy, and can be used to explain processes like biorefinery process, biomass conversion , biofuel production, bioenergy usage, cogeneration, and geothermal heat recovery.

The recycling definition below portrays the concept based on natural processes in an ecosystem;

Recycling is the restoration of value to used or wasted resources, and is driven primarily by the energy pyramid, through natural processes like biodegradation [3].

Waste management is an important related concept to recycling [1]. The following recycling definition highlights this relationship;

Recycling is an essential aspect of waste management whereby useless materials are collected, processed, and converted to valuable, usable products.

The alternative recycling definition below, lays emphasis on the environmental implications of the process;

Recycling is a method of mitigating environmental degradation and achieving soil conservation, air quality conservation and water conservation by removing, processing and restoring waste materials.

Environmental problems that can be mitigated through recycling include stormwater pollution, soil and water degradation, greenhouse gas emission, climate change and global warming.

Another factor of importance is the methods of recycling. The following alternative recycling definition, highlights this factor;

Recycling is the use of chemical, thermal, biological and mechanical methods to transform waste to useful materials.

Lastly, the recycling definition below describes recycling as an industrial concept;

Recycling is the industrial processing and rehabilitation of used or impaired textiles, metals, plastics, paper, rubber, and other materials into useful products that can be utilized for any of various purposes.

It is important to note that the recycling of sustainable products like biodegradable plastics, is slightly different than that of traditional materials. Also, recycling is an essential aspect of circular economy, sustainability and sustainable development.


Steps in the Process of Recycling

Steps in recycling are; collection, sorting, treatment, and recovery. These steps or stages make up what is known as the recycling process.


1). Collection (as one of the Steps in Recycling)

Collection (or ‘waste’ collection) is the first step in the process of recycling.

As the name implies, it involves identifying, collecting and accumulating waste materials that are suitable for recycling.

During waste collection, there is not necessarily any differentiation or categorization of materials. This is due to the scale and urgency of operation at this stage.

Effective waste collection can be achieved through cooperation between government agencies, institutions, industries, commercial outlets and home owners to deliver the waste materials in a timely manner.

Steps in Recycling: Waste Collection (Credit: North Charleston 2017 .CC BY-SA 2.0.)
Steps in Recycling: Waste Collection (Credit: North Charleston 2017 .CC BY-SA 2.0.)


2). Sorting

Sorting is the process by which different types of waste are segregated into separate groups.

It is performed after waste materials of all types have been collected.

The different groups that can be segregated through sorting include plastics, metal, biomass, and paper.

Sorting is necessary because different types of waste require different methods of recycling to convert them to usable products.

Plastics, metal and paper can be subjected to mechanical, thermal and chemical recycling. Biomass (organic waste materials) can be recycled through any of various waste-to-energy methods like anaerobic digestion, gasification and pyrolysis.

Steps in Recycling: Sorting (Credit: Rhino Charge Kenya 2013 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)
Steps in Recycling: Sorting (Credit: Rhino Charge Kenya 2013 .CC BY-SA 3.0.)


3). Treatment (as one of the Steps in Recycling)

After waste has been sorted into various groups, it can be treated and rehabilitated using the appropriate recycling method. This is the stage known as ‘treatment’.

The goal of treatment in the recycling process is to convert waste to useful materials by altering or modifying some physical, chemical or biological characteristics of this waste.


4). Recovery

Recovery, also called ”compounding” or “concentration” is the process of recovering the products of recycling treatment.

These products are usable materials that have been derived from waste through any of various conversion processes.

Materials recovered after recycling may occur in the form of energy, raw materials for manufacturing, or additives for sustainable farming, such as biochar.


Importance of Recycling

Recycling is important because it conserves environmental resources, boosts the economy, and protects public health. These are all requirements for sustainability.

Therefore, it can be said that recycling is important because it leads to environmental, economic and social sustainability.


1). Environmental Importance of Recycling

Recycling is an effective method of waste management that protects the environment and mitigates degradation.

The most obvious means by which recycling protects the environment is through resource conservation [5].

By reusing materials derived from plant biomass, like paper; recycling reduces the rate at which trees are felled, thereby mitigating deforestation. As a result, natural ecosystems like forests, grasslands and tundras are conserved.

Recycling saves energy which would otherwise be consumed in the industrial process of manufacturing, and thereby mitigates greenhouse emissions associated with energy.

Greenhouse gas mitigation implies climate change mitigation, and helps address some problems associated with climate change such as heat waves, desertification, and human-altered natural hazards like induced flooding, soil erosion and landslides.

Recycling improves environmental aesthetics by diverting waste materials from landfills and other dump sites. It also improves air quality by reducing open biodegradation of organic waste, and the associated release of unpleasant gaseous byproducts.


2). Economic Importance of Recycling

Recycling boosts the economy by establishing sustainable models of resource exploitation, manufacturing, and waste management.

At the level of resource exploitation, recycling saves cost by reducing the rate at which natural resources are extracted.

When products are not discarded but rather recycled, the rate of manufacture of new products becomes lower. Also, when new products are manufactured, the raw materials used can be derived from recycling, rather than from natural reserves.

At the waste management level, recycling improves the economy by conserving financial, energy and human resources that would otherwise be spent on environmental remediation projects to restore degraded areas.

Lastly, recycling creates both skilled and unskilled jobs [6], and reduces the rate of unemployment at all levels of society.


3). Social Importance of Recycling

The social importance of recycling is based on the positive impact of recycling practices on public health and wellbeing.

Through recycling, public health is improved because the environment becomes less-polluted [2]. Safety is also improved due to the removal and recycling of potentially-hazardous waste materials.

When it is effectively implemented, recycling improves the quality of living. One way in which this occurs is through the availability of quality products. The enforcement of recycling policies puts an end to the production as well as purchase of low-quality, non-durable products, since these products will need to be recycled.

Lastly, recycling can instill positive behavioral patterns such as conservative consumption, into the society, which will in turn led to improved living standards.


Examples of Materials that Can be Recycled

Materials that can be recycled are; paper, cardboard, wood, glass, plastic, metal and textile.

These materials may occur as part of products like vessels, tools and electronics. After recycling, the reusable material that is recovered, may then be used as raw material to manufacture other products.

On the other hand, products can be re-manufactured and reused. This simply implies that they can be repaired and refurbished without having to go through any elaborate recycling process.

Paper, cardboard and wood are all plant-based materials and can be converted to wood pulp through mechanical and chemical alteration. This pulp can be used as raw material for other plant-based products.

Glass may occur in the form of products like bottles, jars, bulbs and electronic screens. It may be rehabilitated and reused, or can undergo thermal recycling in order to be used to manufacture other products.

Metal may be in the form of equipment, tools, or part of electronic systems. Thermal recycling through smelting, or simple rehabilitation and reuse, are applicable.

Textiles are mostly rehabilitated and reused.



Recycling is the act or process of restoring waste materials and converting them to useful products.

Steps in recycling are;

1. Collection

2. Sorting

3. Treatment

4. Recovery

Importance of recycling includes environmental protection, economic growth, and social sustainability.

Materials that can be recycled are; paper, cardboard, wood, glass, plastic, metal and textile.



1). Amasuomo, E.; Baird, J. (2016). “The Concept of Waste and Waste Management.” Journal of Management and Sustainability 6(4):88. Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

2). Anabaraonye, B.; Chukwuma, J.; Hope, J. (2019). “The Health and Economic Impacts of Waste Recycling for Sustainability in Nigeria.” Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

3). Eskander, S.; Saleh, H. M. (2017). “Biodegradation: Process Mechanism.” Environmental Science and Engineering Vol. 8: Biodegradation and Bioremediation (pp.1-31). Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

4). Olughu, O. U. (2021). “Energy Efficiency and Conservation.” IOP Conference Series Earth and Environmental Science 730(1):012026. Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

5). Osama, A.; Lamma, O. A. (2021). “The impact of recycling in preserving the environment.” Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

6). Sharma, S.; Upadhyay, S.; Singh, B. (2019). “EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITIES WITH PROMOTING WASTE MANAGEMENT IN INDIA.” Journal CleanWAS 3(1):10-15. Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

7). Thormark, C. (2001). “Conservation of energy and natural resources by recycling building waste.” Resources Conservation and Recycling 33(2):113-130. Available at: (Accessed 9 September 2022).

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