Did you know? Some recyclable materials can be recycled over and over again, but others can only be recycled so many times before they are downcycled. Here’s a list of the most common types of recyclable materials and how many times they can be recycled:


Believe it or not, most plastics can only be recycled once or twice before they are downcycled, which means they are recycled into something of a lesser value. Plastic is often downcycled to create clothing, fleece, or even lumber. It is much more energy efficient to downcycle plastic and create these items than it is to use all new materials to create them. However, the items that are created usually cannot be recycled. So, if plastic is downcycled to create a fleece sweater, that sweater may eventually end up in a landfill somewhere when the owner no longer wants it.


Aluminum is one of the most valuable recyclable materials because there is no limit to how many times it can be recycled. The aluminum cans that you drink soda from can be recycled over and over again without degrading. In fact, it is estimated that more than two-thirds of all the aluminum that has ever been produced is still being used today.


Paper consists of long fibers that become shorter and shorter every time it is recycled. The shorter the fibers become, the harder it is to recycle the paper, so this material can usually only be recycled about five to seven times. After it has been recycled five to seven times, the fibers are typically too short to be recycled again. Instead, the material is turned into paper paste and used to create items such as newspapers or egg cartons.


Recycling glass is 33% more energy efficient than creating glass using new materials. Like aluminum, glass can be recycled over and over again without degrading, so you should never feel guilty about buying glass items as long as you take the time to recycle them. Be sure that you contact your local recycling center to find out what types of glass they process. There are several different types of glass and some of them require special processing, so it’s important to figure out which types your recycling center accepts.


Metals can be recycled time and time again without degrading. If everyone were to recycle metal, we could greatly reduce the demand for new materials that need to be mined from the earth. For example, steel is one type of metal that consists primarily of mined ore. By recycling one ton of steel, we can prevent the mining of 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone.

Use this helpful guide to determine which materials you should be buying. Buying any type of recyclable material is smart. But, if you really want to live a greener lifestyle, buy recyclable materials that can be recycled an unlimited number of times, such as glass, metal, and aluminum.