Reducing waste has become a crucial goal for society. While controlling the production of goods may prove difficult, effective waste management and recycling techniques can play a significant role in achieving this objective. This article will explore the concepts of closed-loop and open-loop recycling, focusing on the former's process and benefits.
Closed-loop recycling is a system that ensures the extended use of raw materials. The closed-loop system is where recycling plants collect and recycle waste endlessly. They recycle the waste into new products consumers purchase, and the cycle continues.
There is little to no material degradation during the multiple recycling processes of a closed-loop system. The recycled materials still maintain their properties as they were before recycling. However, the recycling process creates the same product that we recycled. For instance, we can recycle an aluminum beverage indefinitely into another beverage can.
Open loop recycling process differs from closed-loop recycling. Here, collected waste is recycled into new products with purposes different from their old lives. The open loop system turns recycled products into new materials for other products. The transformed recycled products are from waste products with similar materials.
You can also refer to open-loop recycling as downcycling or reprocessing. It is usually connected to the deteriorating state of the waste material and losing attached elements2. The attached elements refer to bottle caps, labels, and adhesives.
Closed-loop recycling keeps waste out of landfill indefinitely, while open-loop recycling doesn’t. Open-loop recycling isn’t indefinite. We can only recycle recyclable products once or twice before they end up in landfills. As such, it delays the inevitable.
Closed-loop recycling is the most sustainable option for recycling systems and the most effective at preserving our natural resources.
Manufacturers produce an item from new raw materials. However, recycling banks keep recycling the item, and the consumers keep using it for the same function instead of creating the item multiple times using a new set of raw materials. The system allows us to preserve our natural resources for future generations.
Also, it reduces the energy used during the re-manufacturing process of products. Let's use a glass bottle as an example. The manufacturing process of a glass bottle requires a lot of energy to melt virgin materials and create the bottle. However, the closed-loop recycling system helps reduce the number of glass bottles we manufacture from scratch. Instead, we recycle the already-produced glass bottle multiple times because recycling the bottle doesn't require as much energy as manufacturing it.
Related: Read more about glass recycling.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, recycling one beverage can saves enough energy to run a computer for two hours. The agency also states that the energy saved from recycling a glass bottle can power a 100 watts bulb for two hours.
Another benefit we can gain from practicing closed-loop recycling is the reduction of environmental pollution. It is an effective waste management system that reduces air and land pollution. The product's closed-loop supply chain is constantly recycling, so we avoid the exorbitant greenhouse gas emissions that usually occur during production.
We also prevent pollution after usage by creating more space in the landfill for items we cannot recycle, also, dumping waste carelessly into the environment. We have less waste incineration and illegal burying of waste.
Therefore, the environment is safer and better protected from waste contamination. There's less risk of global warming. Also, there is less risk of harm to plants and animals because the environment is clean from air, water, and land pollution. The harmful gas emissions that usually harm living organisms are not present.
An important benefit of closed-loop recycling is that it promotes a circular economy. The goal of this economy is to preserve raw materials by sustaining the life cycle of the supply chain through reduce, reuse, recycle, and recovery principles. The closed-loop recycling process helps promote circular economies through its indefinite recycling process, which leads to the preservation of virgin materials and better waste control1.
Related: Importance of 4Rs - Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Before we examine the closed-loop recycling process, we should know the waste materials that recycling facilities accept. The materials that work for open-loop recycling don't work well in closed-loop recycling.
Endlessly recyclable materials include glass, aluminum, and some types of plastic. Glass and aluminum are infinitely recyclable.
However, only a few types of plastic waste are suitable for closed-loop recycling. PET plastic is the only type that can work in a closed-loop system, and it can only work if manufacturers maintain its original purpose.
PET plastic is usually used to produce plastic bottles. So, closed-loop recyclers will reproduce it into a bottle. Other plastic types are unsuitable for closed-loop recycling because their properties usually deteriorate, especially when manufacturers reproduce into a product with a function that differs from its original.
Related: 18 things that can’t be recycled and why.
The concept of closed-loop recycling has three steps. They are:
The first step is to collect all recyclable products. You can't recycle objects that are not sent to recycling banks. So, consumers must ensure they drop all recyclables in recycling bins (Read our recycling tips for more information on effective recycling at home).
Then, recyclers transport them to recycling facilities, sorting and processing them into materials for new products.
After they collect and sort the recyclables, the next step is to send the recycled materials to manufacturers who will use them to produce new items.
To close the loop, the manufacturers send the newly recycled products to stores and markets so consumers can buy and use them. Then the cycle repeats itself.
Closing the loop of society’s supply chain is an efficient method of waste management. It is an efficient way of reducing environmental pollution, using less energy, and reducing waste sent to landfills.
As a business owner, you can create a closed-loop business strategy that will help you sustain the life cycle of your products and help achieve zero waste resource management.
Also, learn to deposit recyclable items properly as a consumer. It is the role you have to play to maintain an efficient recycling system.
Sami Kara, Michael Hauschild, John Sutherland, Tim McAloone, Closed-loop systems to circular economy: A pathway to environmental sustainability?, CIRP Annals, Volume 71, Issue 2, 2022, Pages 05-528, ISSN 0007-8506,
Fedkin. (n.d.). 5.2. Recycling: open-loop versus closed-loop thinking | EME 807: Technologies for Sustainability Systems. 5.2. Recycling: Open-loop Versus Closed-loop Thinking | EME 807: Technologies For Sustainability Systems.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.