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Recycling not always an energy and resource saver, study finds

Friday, May 20, 2011 by: Jonathan Benson, staff writer
Tags: recycling, energy, health news

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(NaturalNews) A recent study conducted by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has found that remanufacturing or recycling certain products actually uses more energy than simply using new products. Published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, the findings cast doubt on the notion that remanufacturing things like old tires and used motor cores always helps to save energy and resources in the long run.

Timothy Gutowski, professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, and his colleagues conducted 25 case studies on products in eight different categories and found that for every remanufactured product that appeared to have a net energy savings, there was another that had a net energy loss. And even among those with net savings, the benefits were often minute or even negligible.

The team calculated energy use not simply as it concerned the actual remanufacturing process, but also how the reused product performed over its lifetime compared to new products. In many cases, new technologies outperformed the remanufactured devices in terms of energy efficiency, meaning that over the course of their life, "new and improved" products actually saved more energy than reused products from an older generation.

Even with used tires, which are often retreaded and reused, researchers found that rolling resistance was slightly higher than in new tires, which over the course of the reused tires' life represents a net energy loss compared to new tires. In other words, more gas is needed to power a car using remanufactured tires than one using new tires, which to some defeats the point of even using remanufactured tires in the first place.

"You think you're doing the right thing, it sounds so simple," said Gutowski, concerning the idea of recycling and reusing to save energy and resources. "[But] things are far more complicated than we expect."

Gutowski and his team noted that regardless of energy usage, remanufacturing still helps to save resources by lowering the impact of waste on landfills and the environment, in most cases. So even if a remanufactured device is not as energy-efficient as a new device, its reused parts can have a more beneficial impact on tangible resource.

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