List of Recycled Industrial Materials

What Materials Are Considered Industrial Materials in Recycling?

“Industrial” is a very broad term, which many people mistakenly think is synonymous with manufacturing. The Global Industry Classification Standard (GICS) identifies 11 industrial sectors:

  • Energy
  • Materials
  • Industrials
  • Consumer Discretionary
  • Consumer Staples
  • Health Care
  • Financials
  • Information Technology
  • Communication Services
  • Utilities
  • Real Estate

Each sector is further divided into industry groups (24 of them in all), comprising 69 separate industries and 158 sub-industries. Every one of these sectors includes activities that create waste materials, defined as unwanted or residual materials. Clearly, it’s not feasible to list all of them in a single article. So, consider the information presented here to be selected highlights rather than a comprehensive inventory of industrial materials in recycling.

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Most Commonly Recycled Industrial Materials

The following are among the most commonly recycled waste materials from a wide range of industrial processes. The ones marked with an asterisk also appear on the list of the top 10 recycled materials in the United States.

  • Aluminum *
  • Brown paper bags (kraft paper)
  • Cables
  • Cement
  • Coal combustion products (fly ash, bottom ash, boiler slag, flue gas material, cenospheres, fluidized bed combustion ash, scrubber residue, etc.)
  • Concrete *
  • Cardboard *
  • Electronics (computers, printers, fax machines, etc.)
  • Ferrous metals (iron, steel *)
  • Foundry sand
  • Glass (bottles, jars, containers, etc.) *
  • Motor Oil *
  • Non-ferrous metals (aluminum, brass, copper, lead)
  • Paper (office paper, newspaper, mixed papers, shredded paper, etc.) *
  • Plastics (bottles and plastic containers) *
  • Rubber
  • Solvents
  • Spent caustics
  • Textiles
  • Wire
  • Wooden pallets
  • Wood scraps

Industrial Recycling Examples

Most industrial recyclables have multiple potential future uses. Some companies, such as BMW, take pride in their products being made largely from recycled materials (95% in the case of BMW). Here are some interesting recycling facts about a few of the materials from the list above.

Cardboard

In the U.S., more than 90% of all products are shipped in cardboard boxes. That includes parts and materials shipped by suppliers to manufacturing facilities and finished products shipped out to customers. Those boxes are made of corrugated cardboard, a corrugated paperboard layer sandwiched between two smooth paperboard layers. Paperboard is the same kind of cardboard your morning corn flakes come in. Cardboard of either type is easily recycled to make new cardboard—up to seven times. About half of all cardboard boxes in circulation at any time have about 50% recycled content.

Coal Combustion Products (CCPs)

CCPs are waste products from the generation of electric power in coal-fired plants. They are used in construction as substitutes for gypsum, gravel, or sand or as inputs to the manufacture of wallboard, concrete, cement, or grout. Another common use is on roadways for traction control on ice and snow. CCPs can also be used as abrasives, in sandblasting, for example, or as granules in roofing materials. Recycled coal ash is used as an input to the manufacture of ceiling tiles and cement.

Foundry Sand

Aluminum, steel, and iron foundries use sand for casting molds. That sand can be recycled for reuse several times before it loses its effectiveness. When it’s no longer usable in a foundry, it can be recycled for use on construction sites, where its low freezing point (lower than the freezing point of soil) extends the work season in cold climates.

Plastics

There are two types of plastic that are recycled more than all other types—The clear PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic used primarily for bottling beverages and the HDPE (High Density Polyethylene) opaque, often colored plastic used in detergent jugs and the plastic containers that many industrial solutions come in. Most often, recycled PET or HDPE plastics are recycled to create the same kinds of containers. But recycled PET plastic can also be used to make building insulation, carpeting, and other products. And recycled HDPE plastic is used in making pipes, posts, fencing, and plastic timber.

Spent Caustics

Spent caustics are the result of desulfurizing petroleum during the refining process. Desulfurization involves the use of caustic soda (typically potassium hydroxide or sodium hydroxide). When the process has been completed, most of the hydroxides have been consumed by the contaminants, leaving a noxious effluent known as spent caustic. In recent years, high-temperature wet air oxidation and other treatment methods have made it possible to regenerate spent caustics for reuse, which reduces the need to purchase new caustics for desulfurization.

Steel

Worldwide, steel is the most widely recycled material, with as much as 90% of all used steel being recycled. There is no limit to the number of times that steel can be melted down and used to produce new steel, for a great energy savings compared to making virgin steel. Additionally, all but a very few byproducts of steel making can be recycled.

Benefits of Recycling Industrial Materials

Companies that get serious about recycling sometimes do so to avoid (or get themselves out of) regulatory hot water related to the disposition of industrial waste materials. And some companies implement industrial recycling plans for altruistic reasons—because it’s good for the planet and all living things. But the potential for significant cost savings and additional income is universally motivating. And the results are easily measured to assess the actual return on any investment in recycling. The proof is in the numbers.

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