There once was a time when the average person never thought about recycling, and never really even conceived of a need for it. Sure, we re-used glass bottles, and perhaps a few other things, but for the most part, we never considered that resources aren’t unlimited, or that we would one day find ourselves overburdened with refuse. Unfortunately, today in Canada, there is concern that our landfills are reaching capacity, and that locations for new ones will become increasingly difficult to find.
Fortunately, recycling has become a regular daily occurrence for many of us, with familiar blue bins in our offices and at our homes. Public waste receptacles have separate bins for trash and recyclables. It has become a habit in many ways, but we can still do more. It’s still too easy to think that we as individuals aren’t having a significant effect, so it’s time to look again at the impact of recycling your junk.
Benefits of Recycling
Landfill Waste Reduction
One of the most obvious and immediate effects of recycling is the reduction of landfill waste. A fact sheet provided by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2014 showed that 258 million tons of municipal solid waste were produced that year. Of that amount, 34.6% was recovered, with 23 million tons composted and 66 million tons recycled. 33 million tons were incinerated to generate energy, and 136 million tons (representing 52% of the total) went into a landfill.
While nearly half of the waste was kept from the landfill, there is still more to be done. The landfill itself was shown to include waste that could easily be recycled. 21% was food waste, 14% was paper and paperboard, 18% was plastic, and 10% was rubber and other materials, all of which could have been recycled. With greater effort, the amount of refuse going into landfills can be further reduced.
Recycling Aids in the Preservation of Natural Resources
According to reports, as much as 94% of resources used in manufacturing of goods are non-renewable. There is a finite amount of these resources, and once they have been used, they cannot be replaced. Preserving them becomes vital to ensuring that they will be available in the future.
For both renewable and non-renewable resources, recycling can result in a drastic reduction in their use. Recycling one ton of material results in the following savings:
- 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 17 trees, and 3 cubic yards of landfill space are saved by recycling just 1 ton of paper
- 3 barrels of oil are saved by recycling one ton of plastic
- 4 cubic yards of landfill space and 1.8 barrels of oil are saved by recycling one ton of steel
Reduction of Energy Usage
The amount of energy required to mine and process materials, as well as to transport them, is considerable. Much of that energy could be saved by the proper recycling of manufactured products. The exact amount varies by material, with metals saving the most energy. Aluminum, for example, uses a great deal of energy, 94% of which could be saved through recycling. Energy used in the manufacture of other metals can range from 50% to 80%. The recycling of municipal solid waste mentioned above conserve enough energy to power 30 million homes.
Protection of Habitats
According to the World Wide Fund For Nature, 40% of the use of the world’s timber goes to the production of wood pulp to make paper. Forests are cut down to meet this need, which not only results in reducing the number of trees, but also affects wildlife as their habitats are destroyed.
Recycling can reduce deforestation considerably. The University of Southern Indiana has noted that if every American were to recycle even one tenth of their newspapers, it would result in 25 million trees being saved each year.
In addition to the damage done by the extraction of natural elements and the cutting of trees, the manufacturing process is responsible for pollution of the air, earth, and water. Once again, recycling can be of benefit in reducing these negative effects. Looking at recycling versus manufacturing, the recycling of paper can reduce pollutants being released into the air by 75%. Recycling steel reduces air pollution by 85% and water pollution by 76%.
Reduction of Global Warming
Greenhouse gas emissions are caused by the manufacture, transportation, and disposal of various manufactured goods, including food. These emissions can be reduced considerably through recycling. Referring again to the recycling of the Municipal Solid Waste mentioned above, the emission of greenhouse gases was reduced by 181 million metric tons.
According to the University of Michigan, “one person recycling their newspapers, magazines, plastic, glass, and metal for one year is enough to save 471 pounds of carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere.”
Where Can We Improve?
According to the University of Southern Indiana, the entire US commercial air fleet could be rebuilt “four times over” with the amount of aluminum discarded each year, and at least 1,200 pounds of organic garbage produced by an average American could be recycled.
Our environment is being polluted by gases and discharged from landfills and uncollected trash, leading to the poisoning of the air, soil, and water sources, which in turn impacts the health of those who come into contact with them. By reducing the amount of waste reaching landfills, recycling also reduces the amount of toxins entering our environment and, by extension, our bodies.
The Cost of Recycling
There are those that are uncertain of the benefits of recycling due to the costs involved. It has been pointed out, however, by sources such as Scientific American, that much of the issue with cost has to do with inefficient segregation of recyclables, rather than the process itself. The introduction of larger recycling bins has resulted in different types of waste being dumped together, leading to an increased cost in sorting, and even the contamination of recyclable items.
While some may balk at the cost involved in recycling, it is more than offset by the long-term effects for our environment, ourselves, and future generations.