As I have been interested in an eco-friendly lifestyle for so long, I have been observing all kinds of eco-friendly companies and businesses in my area, and in other parts of the world. I want to share with you some eco-friendly business ideas for your inspiration. In case you want to build your own business, or if you want to support similar businesses in your area. This will be a series of several articles and in this one, I will only focus on recycling businesses.
Some recycling businesses are one-person operations and require little initial investment. Others are big and need a big initial investment either financial, in space, or both. The most common recycling businesses are plastic, paper-recycling, e-waste, food, metal, and glass recycling. Some other less frequent recycling businesses include textile, tire and rubber, and batteries recycling.
The descriptions of each business are simple and intended for inspiration. If you are interested in building one of these businesses, you will need to conduct a much deeper investigation. That is to say, you will need to look into what do you need in terms of initial investment, knowledge, equipment, legal conditions, etc. It’s always best to prepare a detailed business plan before starting any endeavor.
Many people are not aware that recycling can become a profitable business. In my location, there are dozens of small businesses dedicated to recycling. Moreover, they organize a recycling fair, where they sell their products and collect the raw materials they use.
More eco-friendly business ideas
This article turned into a series of articles. I also wrote articles about upcycling businesses and other eco-friendly business ideas. Get inspired here:
- What upcycling business can I start?
- 10 ideas for an eco-friendly business: Food, cleaning, and transportation.
1. Plastic recycling
I will offer only a simple explanation of how plastic recycling is done. You need to collect the material. Then, separate it according to the type of material, sometimes even the color of the plastic. To recognize the type of plastic, you need to look at the numbers within the chasing arrows triangle located on each item. The numbers range from 1 to 7.
Next, you need to properly wash and clean the plastic materials. You need to clean not only the dirt, grease, etc., but you also need to remove everything that is not plastic. After this, the material is usually shredded or granulated. Then the material is melted and made into the desired shape or form.
What to make
Once the processing is done, you can shape the material into almost whatever you like. You can create molds to create many different useful products. I have seen companies making: recycling containers, any other types of containers, vases, cups, mugs, plastic fibers to later weave baskets or fibers to make new textiles used in home products, boards with a wooden texture to create outdoor furniture, jewelry, and even panels to build houses, and many others.
Types of plastics
Different types of plastics might require slightly different processing. Some companies focus on just one type of plastic, some recycle multiple materials.
N°1 plastic or PET is the material most water bottles are made of. Only 25% of PET plastic is recycled.
The most recycled plastic is N°2 HDPE, or High-Density Polyethylene. It is said to be the safest plastic to use.
N°3 or PVC is a soft and flexible plastic that usually contains a lot of chemicals and toxins. It is not readily recyclable, only around 1% gets recycled each year.
N°4 or LDPE is considered safer than other plastics, but it is not frequently recycled.
N°5 PP, or Polypropylene is recyclable, but only 3% actually gets recycled and it is also considered safe for reuse.
N°6 called PS or Polystyrene is used for food packaging and packaging in general, and it is even used for insulation. In the past, it was not possible to recycle it, but now there are few companies that will recycle it. Depending on your area, it might be difficult to find a place that will receive it. Here we have a company that recycles it and makes industrial and home paints.
Plastic N°7 is not recyclable because it is defined as “other” types of plastic or mixed materials. Another important concern with N°7 plastic is leaching chemicals. That is why you should most definitely avoid buying anything made of this material. Especially if it is used as a food container of any kind.
2. Paper recycling
Paper is made of tree bark and wood, it is made into a pulp and then made into paper. Pulp and paper manufacturing factories are very polluting and have a lot of impact on the environment. Therefore, paper recycling is very important, so we don’t need to cut down more trees and we use the paper that was already produced as many times as possible.
Paper is easily recycled. However, it is not possible to recycle it forever as it loses its quality each time it is processed. Similarly to plastic, after the paper recollection, it is sorted into different kinds of paper: cardboard, office paper, newspaper, magazines, etc. Paper that is too dirty or greasy must be removed.
Then the paper is shredded and mixed with water and some chemicals to make paper pulp. After that, it usually goes through a process of de-coloring. De-inking may be done partly by a mechanical process where the ink is removed from the paper using a flotation process, but sometimes the pulp is also bleached to reach the desired whiteness. Part of the water is then extracted and the new paper is made.
Recycled paper can be used for all the uses just like brand new paper: office paper, newspaper, cardboard, magazines, even toilet paper. It sometimes might have a different color or texture, but usually, it looks just like new paper and you would not even notice.
Hand made recycled paper
There are small companies and individuals, that make handmade recycled paper. The process does not require industrial equipment, but it is more laborious. The finished product is more artisan looking and used mostly for decorative purposes.
You can find makers that produce paper infused with natural colors and perfumes. Paper with flower or herb seeds in them, that can be planted after its use. Paper with natural elements embedded as decorations, etc. In conclusion, these papers can be used to make notebooks, or special event invitations like wedding, baby shower, etc.
3. E-waste recycling
E-waste recycling refers to the recycling of any unused and/or broken electronic waste like televisions, refrigerators, computers, cellphones, etc. I found statistics ranging from 20 to 50 million metric tons of e-waste created every year globally.
Electronics contain various toxic and dangerous chemicals that are released into the environment if not handled properly. E-waste is usually sent to developing countries in Africa where it is causing big environmental and health issues for the population.
The E-waste recycling business is based on dismantling the items and separating all the raw materials by the type of material.
Hazardous materials that can not be shredded are separated manually. Steel and iron pieces are removed using magnets. Plastic and glass can be separated using water, etc. Some electronics will contain valuable materials such as copper, gold, etc. After all the raw materials have been separated and collected, they can be sold to recyclers and manufacturers for further use.
In my article about the Taiwanese 4-in-1 Recycling Program, I also write about how they converted E-waste recycling into a profitable industry. Read about it here.
4. Food recycling: Composting and/or vermicomposting
Around 30% of all food is wasted. A part of it was never sold or consumed because of beauty standards of food, another part was spoiled and thrown away. Most households, restaurants, and other places handling food throw away all their food waste into the garbage bins that go to the landfill.
Composting business is relatively easy to start and the costs are much lower than other proposed recycling businesses. However, you will eventually need sufficient land and storage space for the operations.
To collect food waste you can agree on a regular pick up from local restaurants, big facilities that serve food like schools, hospitals, government offices, etc. In some areas, you may be able to charge fees to collect their food waste, as they have to pay for garbage recollection anyways. In other areas, they will willingly give you their food waste for free.
After the collection, you need to place the food waste into composting containers, or designated areas, mix it with the brown material like paper, cardboard, leaves, etc. and from time to time you will be turning the material to let the air in. If you opt for vermicomposting, you cannot place all the foods, and you will need to collect the waste separated into different types of food
To make a profit you will sell your final product: compost or hummus to gardening stores or directly to customers. Compost and hummus both are natural fertilizers that are increasingly more valued in the market.
To learn more about individual, home-based vermicomposting, composting with worms, read this complete beginner’s guide to starting and maintaining a worm bin in an apartment.
Food waste collection subscription program
I have also seen a different business model based on recollecting food waste from households on a regular (weekly) basis and giving the final product back to the customer, for a monthly fee. This business model can work in urban areas where people are concerned about reducing their environmental footprint but have no time or possibility to do their own composting or vermicomposting.
5. Textile recycling
The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries in the world, but unfortunately, a very small portion of used textiles are recycled or reused. Most of the textiles end up in landfills and produce greenhouse gases or leach microplastics into our water sources. Read more about the fast fashion and textile industry in my article on eco-friendly fabrics.
Textile recycling means converting used textiles into new fibers and producing new items. Unfortunately, this is not as frequent yet, but there are technologies that make this possible. I have seen companies that use this technique to make home cleaning products such as washing and cleaning rags, fiber or textile-based mop heads, etc. or home decor products such as carpets, and even clothing.
For instance, in my area, I support a great local company that collects all kinds of old clothes. They separate them into clothes in good shape and usable, they donate those to people in need, and into unusable textiles that are broken or worn out. They separate the second category by color, wash them properly, shred them into small pieces, and then convert them into fibers. After that, they spin the fiber into eco-friendly mixed material yarns that are perfect to use for crochet and weaving on the loom. Usually, they make batches of 1000-1500 pounds of yarn approximately and the color is unrepeatable as no dies are added and only the combination of the used textiles dictates the resulting color.
6. Other materials recycling
Many other materials can be recycled and turned into businesses like batteries, metal, aluminum, glass, tires, etc.
Recycling is a very important part of lessening our impact on the environment. If your vocation is to help the planet, this is one of the ways of how to join a business with pleasure. I hope you can now make a better-informed decision about what kind of recycling you might be interested in.
To get more ideas on eco-friendly business ideas, refer to these articles: