The Big Five – aluminium, glass, paper, plastic and steel – are the crux of most recycling programmes. The label was coined by the recycling industry to describe these materials because, combined, they make up more than half of the municipal solid waste stream.

The ‘Big Five’ are easily collected and recycled by most established recycling programmes. Aluminium, steel and glass can be recycled infinitely, and paper can be recycled (from its highest quality form) seven times before fibres are too short to recycle further. Recycling them saves energy, resources and landfill space, and reduces the environmental impact of creating new material from virgin resources, such as the non-renewable petroleum sources used to create plastic.

The Big Five are prime candidates for helping businesses to reduce waste and improve sustainability. The environmental impacts of a carefully formulated solid waste management plan can do more for the environment and your business than you might think. There are numerous beneficial and compelling reasons to recycle the big five, at work and at home.

Saves Energy

Recycling cuts energy usage massively when compared with manufacturing virgin materials. Manufacturing using recycled aluminium – one of our Big Five – uses 95% less energy.

Good for the Environment

Recycling uses far less energy than the production of virgin products, uses few to no natural resources and stops waste from piling up in landfills. For example, it helps to preserve the finite supplies of petroleum used to create plastic. It also saves trees, which is incredibly important as the rate of destruction of forests and woodlands is shocking: fifty percent of the Earth’s forests are gone; and in the US, only five percent of the original forest area remains.

Reduces Water Pollution

Recycled materials generate far less water pollution than the production of virgin materials. Turning trees into paper is one of the most water-intensive industrial processes. Paper recycling mills nearly always use less water and they don’t pollute the water nearly as much.

Protects Wildlife

The use of recycled materials reduces the need to farm virgin material from forests, wetlands, rivers and other places essential to wildlife, protecting these environments.

Lower Cost for Waste Removal

The average American discards seven and a half pounds of garbage every day. Most of this garbage goes into landfills, where it is compacted and buried. Lowering your waste stream through recycling means that there is less to dispose of, and this has the added benefit of reducing waste removal costs.


When markets for recyclable items are good, it is sometimes possible to negotiate – particularly for paper and old corrugated cardboards – contracts with your recycling provider to create income for your business.

Tax Credits

In America, there are twenty-five states which offer tax credits for recycling market developments. Similar schemes exist throughout Europe. If you work for a recycling industry or manufacturing business that uses recycled materials, you may qualify for substantial rewards.


Many communities and a large number of trade associations have recognition and awards programmes for companies that recycle. Waste Wise and the American Forest and Paper Association Paper Recycling Awards are good places to start. European and International awards are also available.

Positive Public Image

Aside from the benefits to the environment, you may also find that your company’s image is boosted by recycling. If you visibly recycle, your business will enhance its public image, reach new markets and improve employee morale.

Creates Jobs

Estimates suggest that recycling actually creates five times as many jobs as landfilling. In the US, recycling is a $236 billion a year industry. More than 56,000 recycling and reuse enterprises employ 1.1 million workers nationwide.

Good for the Economy

American companies rely on recycling programmes to provide the raw materials they need to make new products. When suppliers can meet this demand, it increases as enterprising owners turn to recycled products, with all of their benefits, over virgin ones. This boosts the recycling economy, creating even more jobs.

To introduce recycling into your home and workplace, get in touch with a company such as Lombard Recycling, or make sure that you become a regular at your local bottle bank. Recycle whenever and wherever you can; after all, every piece of paper recycled is one piece less to be sourced from a freshly-felled tree. 

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