What is Closed Loop Recycling?

7th February 2024

By Graham Matthews

Closed loop recycling is the process of using an item then recycling it and turning it into a new product of the same or a similar type. It’s a circular process where no additional materials are added to create the recycled product, and nothing goes to landfill.

For closed loop recycling all the materials in manufactured goods are recycled with nothing going to waste. Often the manufacturing process for such items is designed with closed loop recycling in mind. Careful consideration of materials used to avoid creating waste or quality degrading when recycled is important.

There are many examples of closed loop recycling in our daily lives and it’s good for homes and businesses to do their bit for the environment. Find out more about what closed loop recycling is, how it works, and the differences between open and closed loop recycling.

glass bottles in a recycling container.

What is a closed loop 
recycling system?

A closed loop recycling system is when products are used, the waste materials are collected and transported to a recycling facility. They’re then recycled and converted into new items of the same or similar goods that they started life as. No raw materials are required or added into the system to create new recycled products.

For example, an empty glass wine bottle can be collected and taken to a recycling facility. Here it’s washed, crushed with other glass waste, and turned into new recycled glass bottles. Then it’s sent to winemakers to be filled up with the finest red, white, or rose and used as a wine bottle again.

Closed loop recycling systems and processes vary depending on the specific waste type. However, the general process for closed loop recycling involves these steps:

  • Waste items are stored in bins, bags, or containers and collected from homes and businesses
  • They’re transported to recycling facilities where the waste is sorted and separated by material type
  • These materials are cleaned and fed into machinery that often crushes or shreds the waste into small pieces
  • It’s then processed and turned into new recycled materials and products of the same or similar type to the original
  • The recycled products are sent to manufacturers to use, and the closed loop recycling system starts again

Closed loop recycling examples

There are many examples of closed loop recycling in our daily lives – from recycling an empty drink can to a used jam jar. Many materials can be recycled numerous times without quality degrading to form new versions of their original products. Here are a few closed loop recycling examples:

  • Closed loop glass recycling – glass is infinitely recyclable; it can be recycled constantly without losing quality. Glass bottles, jars, and glassware can all be recycled into new bottles and jars.
  • Closed loop metal recycling – aluminium drink cans are the main example of metal closed loop recycling. They’re cleaned, crushed, rolled together, and cut to form new recycled metal cans.
  • Closed loop paper recycling – many types of paper can be turned back into new sheets and other paper products, such as writing, printing, and even toilet paper.
  • Closed loop plastic recycling – one of the most common examples of plastic closed recycling is converting used PET plastic drink bottles into new ones. Not all plastic is recycled through a closed loop system, however.
  • Closed loop textile recycling – some textiles go through a closed recycling process and are recycled as new fibres to create fabric for use in making new items of clothing, rugs, bedding, or other products.

Why is closed loop recycling good?

Closed loop recycling reduces the need to extract raw materials to create new products. This requires less energy, which results in a process that produces less pollution. Closed loop plastic recycling is especially beneficial as it avoids the need for fossil fuels that are otherwise used to create plastic types and products.

It also means less waste goes to landfill as all the material from products at the end of their life are reused. Many materials that can form part of a closed loop recycling system can take hundreds of years to decompose in landfill. Diverting them away from landfill avoids them adding to pollution levels and taking up landfill space.

What is open loop recycling?

Open loop recycling (or downcycling) is when waste items are recycled but turned into something different from their original purpose. The process may require the input of other virgin or raw materials. It can also create waste if some materials or parts of the product can’t be recycled into these new items.

Products of a similar material are usually processed, and the properties changed through heat, chemical reactions, or physical crushing to form new items. The material being recycled may also degrade in quality so it can’t be recycled again at the end of its life.

An example of open loop recycling is plastic milk bottles made from HDPE being collected and recycled but used to create new plastic pipes. With closed recycling, they would be recycled into more plastic milk bottles. Open loop recycling here means types of similar virgin plastic derived from fossil fuels may be added to create the products.

metal drinks cans on top of each other.

Open loop vs closed loop recycling

Open and closed loop recycling both aim to make good use of waste items after they’ve been used. These processes keep the materials in circulation and out of landfill. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. Whether waste follows an open or closed loop recycling process often depends on the type of material.

Open loop recycling

  • Recycles waste into new items and keeps them away from landfill
  • Requires fewer natural resources to create new products
  • Some materials lose quality and can only be recycled once or a few times
  • Raw materials may need adding into some open loop recycling processes

Closed loop recycling

  • Products can be recycled and reused many times
  • No extra raw materials are needed
  • The materials maintain their quality throughout closed loop recycling processes
  • Many waste materials aren’t suitable for closed loop recycling

Got some recyclable waste you need collecting from your business? Find out more about our dry mixed recycling services or speak to one of our expert team for a free quote today – call 0333 444 0118 or contact us online.