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The smaller wheelie bins, for domestic or light commercial use, typically hold 120 to 360 litres (26 to 79 imp gal; 32 to 95 US gal), with 240 litres (53 imp gal; 63 US gal) being the most common. They have a hinged flap lid and two wheels on the bottom on the same side as the lid hinge. There is a bar behind the hinge on the top of the bin which is used to move it, or to hoist it up onto a garbage truck for emptying. The 240 litre bin is usually considered to have the same capacity as three traditional waste containers. In the UK, "wheelie bins" for non-recyclable domestic waste are currently collected either weekly or once a fortnight, depending on the local Council's waste management policies.

In certain areas there is also a recycling service, often with one or more dedicated bins intended to receive items that can be recycled into new products. These bins are sometimes separated into different categories (usually represented by colours) which determine what materials can be inserted into the bin. The contents of the bins are taken to a recycling plant to be processed, and there are various systems for recycling-bin collection: single-bin-combined stream systems, multiple-bin systems, and cyclic collections with different materials collected on different days.

It is difficult to determine the amount of energy consumed or produced in waste disposal processes in broader ecological terms, where causal relations dissipate into complex networks of material and energy flow. For example, "cities do not follow all the strategies of ecosystem development. Biogeochemical paths become fairly straight relative to wild ecosystems, with very reduced recycling, resulting in large flows of waste and low total energy efficiencies. By contrast, in wild ecosystems, one population’s wastes are another population’s resources, and succession results in efficient exploitation of available resources. However, even modernized cities may still be in the earliest stages of a succession that may take centuries or millennia to complete.":720 How much energy is used in recycling also depends on the type of material being recycled and the process used to do so. Aluminium is generally agreed to use far less energy when recycled rather than being produced from scratch. The EPA states that "recycling aluminum cans, for example, saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source, bauxite." In 2009 more than half of all aluminium cans produced came from recycled aluminium.

The amount of money actually saved through recycling depends on the efficiency of the recycling program used to do it. The Institute for Local Self-Reliance argues that the cost of recycling depends on various factors around a community that recycles, such as landfill fees and the amount of disposal that the community recycles. It states that communities start to save money when they treat recycling as a replacement for their traditional waste system rather than an add-on to it and by "redesigning their collection schedules and/or trucks."

Bins in outdoor locations or other busy public areas are usually mounted to the ground or floor. This discourages theft, and also reduces vandalism by making it harder for the bins to be physically moved or maneuvered.

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