Resources and recycling

Sustainable development involves making sure that the way we behave now does not make life difficult or impossible for future generations. You will remember that the Earth’s resources are limited so, to achieve sustainable development, we need to carefully consider how we use resources.

Recycling is an important way to help us achieve sustainable development. We can recycle many resources, including:

  • glass
  • metal
  • paper
  • plastic
Girl recycling bottles
Used objects need to be sorted before they can be recycled


Glass is easily recycled. It can be melted and remoulded to make new objects, such as bottles. The energy needed to do this is less than the energy needed to make new glass from its raw materials. However, we need to sort different coloured glass ready for recycling, and transport it to the recycling plant.


Just like glass, it takes less energy to melt and remould metals than it does to extract new metals from their ores. Aluminium is a valuable metal that melts at a relatively low temperature, so it is particularly attractive for recycling.

Metal drinks cans ready to be recycled
Metal drinks cans ready to be recycled


Paper is not melted when it is recycled. Instead, it is broken up into small pieces and reformed to make new sheets of paper. This takes less energy than making new paper from trees. However, paper can only be recycled a few times before its fibres become too short to be useful. Recycled paper is often only good enough for toilet paper or cardboard, but it can be used as a fuel or compost instead.


Many plastics (but not all) can be recycled. For example, some plastic bottles can be recycled to make fleece for clothing. Recycling means that we use less crude oil, the raw material needed for making plastics. Different types of plastics have to be sorted out and this can be difficult, but recycling plastic does stop much of it ending up in landfill sites.

Landfill site with waste truck dumping refuse
A lot of waste still ends up in landfill sites, which is a waste of valuable resources
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