Everyone has heard the slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”—but does observing this hierarchy really minimize negative impacts? With respect to reduction, it seems clear that using less of something decreases the impact. Similarly, reuse of a material or product should decrease the impact of each use, as long as the resources needed to restore the item to usable condition each time are not too large. For recycling, the picture varies by material and often involves tradeoffs among impacts. Life-cycle analysis aims to comprehensively compare all of the impacts of various disposition options. This article summarizes the pros and cons of recycling materials used in paper, drink containers, and the complex batteries for electric vehicles from the perspective of life-cycle analysis.
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