There are some materials and items that can be recycled over and over.
On the other hand, some materials and items can only be recycled a limited number of times.
In the guide below, we go over the different materials like plastic, paper, metal, glass and so on, and identify how many times each can be recycled.
We also discuss what happens to materials and items that can no longer be recycled.
Summary – How Many Times Can You Recycle Different Materials
Factors That Impact Number Of Times A Material Or Item Can Be Recycled
There’s a number of factors or variables that impact how many times something can be recycled, and we list them in the guide below.
Factors might be categorised as either physical factors, or practical or economic factors.
How Many Times The Different Materials Can Be Recycled
Some estimates of materials and the amount of times they can be recycled:
Some common plastics may only be recycled once or twice, but other plastics might be able to be recycled up to 9 times, depending on what they are used for
Depending on the type of paper, paper might be able to be recycled 4 to 7 times
Metals like steel and aluminum can be recycled infinitely
Glass can be recycled infinitely
Recycling Rates Of Different Materials
It can be interesting to compare the number of times a material can be recycled, with actual recycling rates of these different materials in different countries
Factors That Impact How Many Times A Material Or Item Can Be Recycled
There’s both physical factors, and practical or economic factors, that impact how many times different materials and items can be recycled.
Physical factors mostly refer to the physical makeup of the material or item.
There’s also some types of items that have features that make them very hard or not possible to recycle in many recycling facilities. Examples of these features might include being too soft/flimsy, or being designed in a way that is inefficient or very difficult to recycle
Practical Or Economic Factors
There’s some materials or items that don’t make practical or economic sense to continually recycle.
For example, some materials degrade in quality or performance the more they are recycled, and therefore aren’t accepted by manufacturers who want recycled materials of a certain standard.
Some materials also aren’t valuable enough as a recycled material to process at a recycling facility – they may be cheaper to import, or make new.
We previously wrote about the economics of recycling in this guide.
It also depends on what the recycled material is being used for – some items and uses require a higher quality material than what recycled material can offer. Some material is ‘downcycled’ for this reasons into suitable uses (such as some plastics being downcycled into textile fibres and carpeting)
How Many Times Can You Recycle Plastic?
The data below suggests that different plastics can be recycled a different amount of times
Common plastics might be able to be recycled once or twice, whilst other plastics might be able to be recycled up to 9 times
How Many Times Plastic Can Be Recycled
It’s a common misconception that most plastics can be recycled many times over …
In practice, the majority of recycled plastics are only recycled once or twice before being finally disposed of in landfill or incineration
The plastics that can be recycled more than once are considered durable plastics. These are items like bottle caps.
Unfortunately, once the bottle caps are turned into a recycled item, that recycled item has to be turned into a fabric and its recycled potential is over, just like the plastic from the bottle the cap originated on.
Plastic can be recycled 7-9 times before it is no longer recyclable. (ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz)
Plastics With The Highest Recycling Rates
Plastics Of The Future
How Many Times Can You Recycle Paper & Cardboard?
The data below suggests that, depending on the type of paper, paper might be able to be recycled anywhere between 4 to 7 times
Every time paper is recycled the fibres shorten.
It is estimated paper can be recycled 4-6 times.
The average number of times your printer paper can be recycled is about five to seven times.
After that, the fibers will become too short and can’t be made into copier paper anymore.
From that point, it can be made into more of a paper paste and can be used for things like newspaper or egg cartons.
How Many Times Can You Recycle Metals (Aluminum, Steel etc.)?
The data below suggests some metals can be recycled infinitely
… steel and aluminium lose no quality during recycling and can be recycled endlessly (ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz)
… metals and aluminum can be recycled infinitely (earth911.com)
How Many Times Can You Recycle Glass?
The data below suggests glass can be recycled infinitely
Glass … loses no quality during recycling and can be recycled endlessly (ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz)
Glass … can be recycled infinitely (earth911.com)
What Happens To Materials & Items That Can No Longer Be Recycled?
There’s a few options for managing materials and items that can no longer be recycled:
– Repurposing & Downcycling Into Secondary Uses
Using plastic as an example, some plastics are repurposed for a range of secondary uses.
– Sending Materials & Items To Landfill Or Incineration
Some argue that it’s questionable to recycle items and materials that will eventually end up in landfill or being incinerated anyway.