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Part III: Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. A Mantra for our Time.


This structure was built using more than 100,000 beer and soda cans, wooden windows, hubcaps, screen doors, bicycle reflectors and more. The creator, Dominic “Cano” Espinoza, a Native American Vietnam vet was inspired by “Vitamin Mary Jane” and Jesus.

Espinoza has spent over 30 years working on what he calls “Jesus’ Castle.” The castle is popularly referred to as Cano’s Castle. Image credit: Motherwit.

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. A Mantra for our Time. Part III

Part III of our “Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.” series focuses on recycling. We follow the lead of Mother Nature – the mistress of perpetual mulch. Almost all of us have tossed an ordinary plastic water bottle into a recycling container. The EPA estimates that 94% of U.S. residents have access to a recycling facility. Many municipalities charge for trash and recycling pickup. Some municipalities mandate recycling, and some states ban recyclable products from landfills.

In this blog, we will drill down to learn that, for centuries, we have realized that the value of recycling goes much deeper than picking up the trash. We will learn what happens to recycled products, which have the greatest value, and what products are made from recycled material.

Why is it important? The amount of energy saved measure the true value of recycling. As we described in our first blog on “Reduce”, and our second blog on “Reuse”, we must employ every resource to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and methane gases to halt the rise of our atmospheric temperature. All of us must contribute to this effort, one plastic bottle and one aluminum can at a time.

In addition to saving energy, recycling drastically decreases the amount of waste dumped in landfills and decreases the use of natural resources which benefits the ecosystems of the world and future generations.


By recycling, we are updating an ancient practice. Archaeologists discovered that, since at least 400 B.C., recycling occurred during times of war and times of need. The Romans recycled bronze coins into statues with greater value than the coins. The Bible speaks of turning plowshares into swords and pruning hooks into spears (Joel 3:10). Pre Industrial Revolution, people found it less expensive to recycle than to use virgin material. For example, in Britain, ash from fires was used as a base material for brick making. In World War II, recycling became a patriotic means to help the war effort. After two decades of dormancy, recycling revived in the 1960’s under the Gary Anderson’s iconic triangular symbol and has become more urgent as the atmosphere has warmed.


Manufacturing from virgin materials costs energy. The materials must be located, mined or harvested, and transported to the factory. Using recycled material eliminates much of this collateral energy use. But are all recycled materials do not have the same value.

Aluminum. Because aluminum never degrades, it sits on top of the pyramid of recyclables. Production of recycled aluminum cans does not require the expensive processing associated with new aluminum production. You can make 20 aluminum cans from recycled material using the same amount of energy it would take to make 1 can from aluminum ore, saving 94% of the energy necessary for a new can. It is possible for a can to go from the recycle bin to the grocery shelf in 60 days.

• Glass. According to the American Geo-sciences Institute, the energy saving from recycling glass is only 10-15% because it must be re-melted, an energy-intensive process. Some craft brewers are leading the switch from glass bottles to aluminum cans.  

• Plastics. There are several different types of plastic that are not the same quality and cannot be blended. Some recycled products require the use of a particular type of plastic. Other plastics are “down-cycled” into low grade products like carpet and fleece which are eventually tossed in the landfill.

• Paper. Recycling paper saves about 60% of the energy needed to make paper from pulp, and saves countless trees. The U.S. ships a large quantity of recyclable paper to China.


Recyclable products further save energy when they become new products. Yesterday’s plastic detergent bottle becomes today’s new frisbee, saving the energy that would have been required to produce a frisbee out of unused plastic.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has a terrific interactive page showing what new products come from each type of recycled material.

Recycle for Building and Construction Products

The non-profit Green Building Solutions provides the following list of building products made from recycled material.

Energy Saving Foundations

Continuous Insulation

Thermal Doors

Energy Conserving Windows

Roofing Materials & Membranes

Modern Pipe Materials

Protecting Electrical

Luxury Flooring

Wall Coverings

Sustainable Trim & Finishing


Resilient Decking, Fencing, Railing

And an article in the English newspaper The New Statesman lists nine additional unique building products made from recyclables including roofing tiles from used diapers, bricks from bottles, and Plasphalt roads from plastic waste. Finally, for amazing buildings constructed of recycled materials check out:

Recycle for Innovative Consumer Goods

From bicycles to skateboards, development and production of new consumer products constructed from recyclables moves quickly forward. Here are samples of what’s available.


Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Reduce the need for energy produced by fossil fuels by reusing what we can and recycling all we can. Our commitment to this mantra, and technological advances we are achieving under its banner, will guide us to a sustainable way of life.

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