Why Recycling is Beneficial

When your recyclables get made into new products, they contribute to North Carolina's circular economy.

The circular economy keeps materials and products in circulation for as long as possible. It involves:

  • Using products for longer periods of time; 
  • Repairing or reusing products when possible; 
  • Recycling to create new things from existing materials; and
  • Purchasing products made from recycled materials.  

A circular economy requires less extraction of resources and generates less waste, as compared to a linear economy where products are made, consumed, and disposed. Benefits of a circular economy include energy savings, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, avoidance of landfill use, job creation, and economic investment. 

Linear Economy Model


Recycling Benefits the Economy

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In North Carolina, more than 15,700 people are directly employed by the state’s private recycling industry with a total estimated annual payroll of $759 million. Each step along the recycling process employs local workers. See the impact of plastic bottle recycling in the Carolinas.

The Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries identified a $117 billion contribution to the U.S. economy from recycling activities in 2021. Continued investments in North Carolina’s recycling infrastructure contribute to the local tax base and strengthen the manufacturing sector.

Drill down see to local impacts through the interactive Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries economic impact page

Recycling is an important and growing part of the manufacturing supply chain. More companies and brands are increasing the amounts of recycled content in the products they make. Having reliable access to recycled feedstock allows manufacturers to decrease reliance on imported materials. 

North Carolina is home to more than 60 manufacturers that rely on recycled material to make new products including clothing, furniture, building materials, vehicles, and boxes and packaging for food, beverages and everyday consumer products. These companies employ more than 14,000 workers with total annual sales of more than $4 billion. 

Recycling Benefits the Environment

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Extracting raw materials to create the materials and products we use every day involves processes like mining, quarrying, logging, and refining. These activities require large amounts of energy and can create air and water pollution.   

Manufacturing products from recycled content reduces the need for extracting more raw materials and in most cases, uses less energy to create the same products. This translates to less pollution, conservation of resources, and fewer fossil fuels burned.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 42 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are associated with the manufacturing, use, and disposal of the goods and food produced in the United States.   

In a linear economy model, energy is consumed and GHGs are emitted during the extraction of raw materials, the manufacturing of materials into products, the distribution of products to consumers, and the final disposal of those products in a landfill or incinerator.  

A circular economy model that uses recycled material to create new products typically uses less energy and can often be done in a more localized geographic area, which translates to fewer fossil fuels burned and reduced GHG emissions that contribute to climate change.  

The Recycling Partnership has provided a Greenhouse Gas and Water Savings Calculator for communities to quickly estimate the impacts of their recycling programs.  

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has provided the Waste Reduction Model (WARM) to calculate the potential GHG savings from reduction, recycling, and composting activities. For instance, in fiscal year 2022 North Carolina local government recycling programs resulted in GHG emissions savings of 1,136,754 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, which is equivalent to avoiding the annual emissions of 241,349 passenger vehicles.  

Recycling preserves natural resources by using existing resources that have already been harvested. This allows for the conservation of resources such as:

  • Fossil fuels for plastic;
  • Iron and bauxite ore for steel and aluminum cans; 
  • Trees for paper; and
  • Sand, soda ash and limestone for glass. 

Recycling also reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills for disposal, which preserves space and extends the life of existing landfills. Statewide, existing landfills are estimated to provide disposal capacity for the next 20 years based on fiscal year 2022 data. However, timelines are shorter in particular regions of the state.