How Many Times Can This Be Recycled?

We recently learned about what our recyclable items are made from in “Why Should We Recycle? Part 1 and Part 2, but have you ever wondered “How many times does this get recycled?” as you’re putting an item in your Blue Bin? Us too!

Once you empty your blue, in-home recycling bin into your recycling rollcart or dumpster, the items are collected by the City of St. Louis Refuse Division, then loaded from a City Transfer Station and transported by large semi-trucks to Republic Services in Hazelwood, MO to be sorted.

Republic Services is our Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) and collects around 80% of the recycling in the St. Louis Metro area. Once items make their way to the MRF and are sorted they get baled and sold to outside markets to be made into new items.

Paper & Flattened Cardboard

We’ve learned that paper comes from trees, but how many times can it be recycled? Paper has an “end-of-life” which means eventually it will no longer be recyclable and must be sent to the landfill. Copy paper, notebook paper and cardboard boxes can be recycled 5-7 times before being made into toilet paper, tissue or paper towels. Paper is made of fibers that, after they are recycled 5-7 times, are too small to make new products. Paper towels and napkins, facial tissue and toilet paper cannot be recycled in our Blue Bins because they are at their end-of-life.

You can reduce your paper waste by purchasing products made with recycled content. Typically, this is indicated on the package what percentage of the item, or packaging itself, is made with recycled content.

Plastic Bottles & Containers

We learned that most plastics are made with a mixture of petroleum, otherwise known as oil, other various chemicals and dyes. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource that takes millions of years to form. The process of extracting petroleum is very harmful to our environment which is why it’s so important to reduce, reuse and recycle plastic bottles and containers.

Plastic bottles and containers can be recycled 2-3 times before they reach their end-of-life. Similar to paper, the plastic polymers that hold an item together become too small to be made into new things eventually. Unlike glass and metal, chemicals are added each time to help keep the polymers together.

Some plastic gets recycled into carpet, insulation for jackets and sleeping bags and even clothing!

Glass Bottles & Jars

Sand is the natural resource that is used to make glass.  It is a finite resource.  Finite is defined as “having bounds, or limits; measurable” which means that eventually we will run out of this resource.

But wait, there’s good news! While the resources used to produce new glass materials are finite, glass bottles and jars can be recycled endlessly without losing their entire chemical makeup! Because they can be recycled over and over, recycling glass bottles and jars means that we don’t have to rely on raw materials for new items. So always put glass bottles and jars in your Blue Bin once they’re empty and dry.

It’s important to remember that dinnerware, cooking and baking ware is not accepted in the Blue Bins. These types of glass have added chemicals that allow them to withstand high temperatures when we cook with them. If you can’t donate dinner, cooking or bake ware, they must be placed in the trash.

Metal Food & Beverage Cans

Metal food and beverage cans, just like glass, can be recycled infinitely! Aluminum, tin and steel cans will not lose their chemical makeup during the recycling process. Since we have to mine into the Earth’s surface to get aluminum and tin, it’s important to recycle metal food and beverage cans to lower our need for new materials.

Infinitely recyclable means they can be recycled over and over again without losing their chemical makeup or quality.

Food & Beverage Cartons

Once your food and beverage cartons are separated from other recyclables at the MRF, they have two available paths for being recycled. The empty cartons, also known as Tetra Paks, can be sent to a paper mill to where they will become paper towels or toilet paper products. They can also be sent to a facility that will recycle them into building materials. You can learn more about the recycling process of food and beverage cartons here.

This video shows the recycling process of food and beverage cartons.

Good, Better, Best

Recycling is important for many reasons but it’s also important to remember the other two infamous R’s. Reducing our overall waste is the best option for us to lower our dependence on natural resources and be more sustainable. We live in a world of overconsumption, so ask yourself before buying something, “Do I really need this?”

For the items we do need, we can practice precycling when we’re shopping. Not sure what precycling is? Read our blog post, “Take Recycling to the Next Level: Precycle!” to learn why this is so important in reducing waste and increasing recycling.

We’ve learned that glass bottles and jars and metal food and beverage cans are infinitely recyclable so these items or this type of packaging are the best option for us to choose. Paper, flattened cardboard, plastic bottles and containers and food and beverage cartons all have an end-of-life eventually so these are still good options.

The least desired packaging to choose when shopping is styrofoam and plastic bags and film. Styrofoam is not recyclable and must be placed in the trash.

Some plastic film is recyclable at your local grocery or retail store. Find out what types of plastic film you can recycle Beyond the Blue Bin here.

Last but, not least, avoid items packaged in plastic pouches, too. While plastic, these pouches are not a bottle or container making them not recyclable.

Now that we know all of our materials come from natural resources and how many times they can be recycled, what are some ways that you can reduce your waste?


  • It’s good to know that metal can be recycled infinitely because they will not lose their chemical makeup during the recycling process. There are some steel tubes in our home we have no use for anymore. I’ll take it to a recycling facility soon to help save the environment. Thank you!

  • K Dolson says:

    Because plastic bottles are never made back into plastic bottles, they are technically DOWNcycled into different products not recycled. We need to make corporations more accountable to using recycled content in their plastic bottles – Extended Producer Responsibility.

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