What Does ‘Close the Loop’ Really Mean?

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The term “close the loop” is tossed around a lot in the green sphere. But what does the expression really mean, and why is it important to how we manage our waste? Earth911 takes a closer look at the concept to find out.

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Recyclables make their way through a Baltimore plant. From here, these bottles, boxes and cans will be processed, sent to manufacturers and used to make new products. Photo: Flickr/bjornmeansbear

What is “closed loop” recycling?

“Closed loop” recycling is basically a production process in which post-consumer waste is collected, recycled and used to make new products. This process can be as simple as using recycled aluminum to make new cans, or as complicated as weaving reclaimed plastic bottles into polyester for clothing and other products.

For the closed loop system to function properly, consumers, recyclers and manufacturers must work together to reclaim valuable materials from our waste stream and use them to make new products.

If you’re still a bit fuzzy on the “closed loop” idea, look on the bottom of that plastic bottle for a clue. That’s right, the good ol’ chasing arrows recycling symbol will go a long way toward explaining the concept.

You may think you know the chasing arrows recycling symbol, but you may be surprised by its true meaning. Photo: Shutterstock

The chasing arrows

It’s a common misconception that the chasing arrows recycling symbol represents the three Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle). The design, created in 1970 by college sophomore Gary Anderson, actually symbolizes the closed loop system – with each arrow depicting a step in the process.

To get a better grasp on what it truly means to “close the loop,” let’s take a closer look at the familiar chasing arrows and discover what they really mean.

  1. Collection: The first step in the closed loop recycling system is collection. To put it simply, collection is when consumers toss recyclable products into their curbside bins or take them to a local drop-off center. Collected materials are processed at recycling facilities and prepared to be sold to manufacturers.
  2. Manufacturing: Manufacturing recycled materials into new products is the second step of the closed loop system. Manufacturing plants create new products from recycled goods and ship them to retailers to be sold as new items.
  3. Purchasing: The third and possibly most important step in the closed loop system is when you, the consumer, purchase products made from recycled materials. When consumers purchase recycled-content products, they essentially “close the loop.”


NEXT: How does the closed loop system work?