You keep hearing about a circular economy, but you’re not sure what it is. A circular economy is best summed up as an economy where consumers, communities, and manufacturers work together to reduce waste by reusing recyclable materials.

How a Circular Economy Works

Take a closer look at exactly what happens with a circular economy. Start with a bottle of water. U.S. consumers consumed 15 billion gallons of bottled water in 2020. Americans drink a lot of water, but 3.3% of the water bottles don’t make it to recycling facilities and instead end up in landfills.

Stop and think about this. One gallon of water is 128 ounces, and the average water bottle size is 16.9 fl. oz. That means every gallon equates to about 7.5 water bottles. Now, not everyone sticks to single-use water bottles. You do have some people who use a refillable bottle or glass from a water cooler. estimates that 50 billion water bottles are used each year. That’s still a lot of plastic being used and 3.3% of it ends up in landfills.

PETE plastic is typically made from crude oil and meant for one-time use. After that, it has to be recycled and shredded into pellets that can be melted and used to make new bottles. That’s exactly what the goal of a circular economy is. You’re purchasing goods, recycling the packaging the goods are in, and purchasing more goods made with the recycled plastic.

HDPE is another commonly used plastic. It’s also able to be washed and reused, which makes it a favorite option for the water bottles you use for water coolers, and you can even refill them on your own if your store has a refilling station.

If you use water bottles, look for companies that use 100% recycled plastic and support a circular economy. In 2020, Evian announced they would only be using 100% recycled plastic and getting rid of labels on their products in five countries. In the U.S., Poland Spring uses MadeBetter™ bottles made of recycled plastic.

Would you rather use a refillable water bottle? The Buoy bottle is made from 100% recycled HDPE plastic that’s collected before it makes it into the ocean. It’s dishwasher-safe and BPA-free. This is one of many brands. When you’re searching for a bottle look for keywords like “100% recycled” or “environmentally sustainable” to find brands that recycle plastic and make their products from that. It’s the best way to engage in a circular economy.

Every Product Can Be Part of a Circular Economy

Recycled plastics, metals, paper, and even wood can all be used to create new products. When you’re shopping for something new, look for items made from recycled materials. You can get flooring made from reclaimed wood, Mohawk’s EverStrand™ carpeting is made from recycled plastic, and Trex decking boards are made from recycled wood and plastic film.

You can also shop for clothing and shoes that are made from recycled materials. Adidas is one of several shoe companies that have sneakers made from recycled ocean plastic. Patagonia’s NetPlus® is an apparel line made from recycled fishing nets. Many designers use RPET fabric, which is recycled PET.

You need a new computer. Why not choose one that’s made with as much recycled glass, metal, and plastic as possible? Acer was one of the first computer manufacturers to release an eco-friendly computer. The Aspire Vero’s touchpad, cover, operating surface, and keycaps are all made from recycled plastic. HP has several computers made from recycled plastic, and they also sell computer briefcases and backpacks made from shredded recycled plastic.

Do you have children or grandchildren looking for new toys? EarthHero is one company making toys from 100% recycled plastic. Most of their toys are made with recycled milk jugs. Resoftables, Recyclings, and Playtek are other toy manufacturers using 100% recycled materials to make toys.

Make Sure You Recycle Correctly

The final step in a circular economy is to make sure you’re recycling correctly. If you put an item into your recycling bin that is not recyclable, it can contaminate a load of recycling and send it to the landfill. It’s important that you’re recycling correctly. If you’ve just moved, don’t expect all of the recyclables your old district took are accepted by the new one.

Follow your area’s rules for recycling. Most facilities have bins and no longer require you to sort recycling on your own. That’s not true everywhere, so make sure you live in a zero-sort area before you throw everything onto one bin. If you’re asked to cut boxes down into a specific size, do so. If you’re told to not recycle pizza boxes, make sure you put them in the trash.

A water bottle that’s marked #1 plastic is recyclable, but the colored lid on it may not be. Take lids off and trash them if your district doesn’t take small caps. Know your plastics and which are recycled in your town or city.

  • #1 – PET or PETE (Polyethylene Terephthalate) – Very common and accepted at most facilities
  • #2 – HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene) – Also common and accepted at most facilities
  • #3 – PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) – Harder and less likely to be accepted in curbside recycling bins
  • #4 – LDPE (Low-Density Polyethylene) – Softer plastic that’s used for storage bags, garbage bags, etc. and is not accepted in curbside bins, but grocery stores often have drop-off recycling boxes
  • #5 – PP (Polypropylene) – Durable and used for reusable food storage, bottle caps, CD or DVD packages, not often accepted in curbside containers
  • #6 – PS (Polystyrene) or Styrofoam – Food packaging, padding for fragile items during shipping, etc. that insulates well but is crumbly and is not recycled in most areas
  • #7 – Other – Found in many items like toys, electronics, sports bottles, etc. and isn’t recycled in most areas

Some areas do not accept any plastics that are smaller than two inches, that are black plastic, or that have contained items like motor oil or lawn and garden pesticides. Items must be cleaned before recycling them.

If you’re recycling junk mail, remove the plastic windows or any plastic cards that are inside them. Another commonly confused recyclable includes the boxes you get in the freezer section. Boxes with a wax or plastic coating are not always accepted in a recycling facility.

Not all glass can be recycled. Many districts do not accept Pyrex or certain colors, such as blue or red.

How can you tell what is and isn’t accepted by your district? Go online and find your local waste district or hauler’s website. Search for an online guide. If you don’t see one, call and ask to have one mailed to you. They should have a guide they can send.

Get answers to your questions about recycling by visiting Recycle Nation. Our easy-to-use recycling page tells you where to bring the recyclables you enter into the search form. You’ll get the nearest recycling center, contact information, and an address you can use to get driving directions. Find a recycling location today and support a circular economy.