Recycling is the process of turning old used materials into new ones. Through recycling and reusing waste, energy and raw materials are saved.
With the continuously increasing population and use of disposable products and packaging, our finite natural resources are being depleted at an alarming rate.
Currently less that 25% of our waste is being recycled, with the remaining being buried or incinerated in landfills. This seems absurd when we could be reusing and/or recycling more than 70% of the waste we produce.
Nearly everything we use in our everyday lives can be recycled including aluminum cans, aluminum foil and bake ware, steel and tin cans used for soup and coffee, cardboard including milk and juice cartons, magazines, office and newspaper, phone books, most glass products, plastics bottles, jars, and jugs, car and household batteries, light bulbs, electronics, and even food.
If just half of Americans recycled on a regular basis, it would reduce greenhouse emission by the same factor as taking 25 million cars off the road.
By recycling we could reduce exploitation of natural resources, save money, reduce pollution and waste, and create jobs and boost the economy.
This article will discuss the many benefits of recycling including environmental and economic benefits.
1. Preserves Natural Resources & Prevents Habitat Destruction
Most of the world’s natural resources are finite, meaning they are limited and will run out at some point. Preserving these natural resources is a primary concern for those concerned about the longevity of natural resources available for human use.
We can reduce the consumption of natural resources by using recycled materials to make new products and packaging. Preventing waste through source reduction before it is generated can further reduce the need for disposal and save more resources.
Recycling can result in products better than those made by the virgin materials. For example, after being processed for recycling, the tin in bimetallic cans is more refined and as a result more valuable.
For every ton of steel recycled, 40 pounds of limestone, 1000 pounds of coal, and 2,500 pounds of iron ore are saved. By recycling tin we can reduce the need for raw material which reduces mining and its associated pollution.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources, in 2005 the state saved 1.4 million tons of iron ore, 829,786 tons of coal, and 71,124 tons of limestone by recycling over 1.2 million tons of steel.
By reducing land disturbances and pollution associated with mining and extraction of new materials we are decreasing the degradation of natural ecosystems and wildlife habitats.
Paper recycling plays a direct role in the preservation and biodiversity of forests, by lowering the demand for wood.
The longleaf pine forest in the southern United States used to cover 90 million acres, but today less than five percent remains due to harvesting mature longleaf pin for the production of wood, paper, and other paper products.
The longleaf pine forest is home to more than 20 endangered species. By recycling paper and paper products we are reducing the pressure on the remaining longleaf pine forest and preserving habitat for these endangered species.
2. Creates Jobs & Benefits the Economy
Recycling plays an important role in the economy by ensuring waste is re-used and reduced.
Studies have shown that for every one job in waste management there are four jobs in recycling. After the recycling process, even more jobs are created for making new goods out of the recycled materials.
It has been estimated by the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive that recycling and remanufacturing industries create more than $1 billion in revenue and hundreds of thousands of jobs in manufacturing. Jobs range from high quality product manufacturing to materials handling and processing, employing low-, medium-, and highly-skilled workers.
According to the most recent census data, recycling and reuse activities in the United States in 2007 created 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages, and $6.7 billion in tax revenues.
To put these numbers into better perspective, for every 1,000 tons of recycled material 1.57 jobs are created with an average wage of $76,030, and $14,101 in local and state tax revenue is generated.
Recycling also saves communities money in waste handling, landfill production, and incineration costs associated with burning garbage because waste is being recycled and reused rather than put into the landfills.
By buying recycled products and packaging we can create an economic incentive for recyclable materials to be collected, recycled, and manufacture into new products. This creates a closed loop system that reduces the costs of recycling.
3. Saves Energy, Reduces Pollution, & Preserves Landfill Space
Recycling reduces pollution because manufactures are reusing materials instead of creating new ones, which also saves energy, and toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases aren’t being released into the atmosphere though incineration in landfills.
By recycling hazardous waste, it is prevented from making it to the landfills where it can potentially contaminate water sources through seepage, which has been known to happen.
The EPA estimates that 0.1% to 0.4% of surface aquifers are contaminated by landfills and industrial impoundments leaching metals, mineral, explosives, bacteria, viruses, and other toxic substances.
Anything more than 0% is unacceptable.
According to Stanford University, the amount of energy that is lost by throwing away recyclables such as aluminum cans and newspapers is the equivalent to the annual output of 15 power plants.
For every one ton of recycled newsprint 1.7 barrels of oil, 7,000 gallons of water, 4.6 cubic yards of landfill space, 601 kilowatts of energy is saved, and 60 pounds of air pollutants are prevented from being released into the atmosphere.
One ton of recycled news print saves 9.0 barrels of oil, 7,000 gallons of water, 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, 601 kilowatts of energy, and 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released.
Recycling one ton of plastic saves 16.3 barrels of oil, 5,774 kilowatts of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.
For every one ton of glass 0.12 barrels of oil, 42 kilowatts of energy, and 2 cubic yards of landfill space are saved, and 7.5 pounds of air pollutants are prevented from being released into the atmosphere.
Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to power a light bulb for 4 hours.
When you recycle aluminum, 95% of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source is saved. Recycling one ton of aluminum saves 40 barrels of oil, 14,000 kilowatts of energy and 10 cubic yards of landfill space.
With this type of data, recycling should seem like a no-brainer.
As you can see by recycling you are reducing pollution, conserving resources, saving energy, promoting the economy, and creating jobs.
When we are only recycling a quarter of what we produce in waste, not only are we wasting precious natural resources and polluting the environment, but we are also basically throwing away energy and destroying land and habitats just to create more energy to waste.
The problem of waste may be the most worrying concern for the environment and overall health of human beings, but there is a way to solve and mitigate this problem. Think about nature and your own family’s well-being as well as the health of future generations and reduce, reuse, and recycle.
It is our responsibility to ensure that waste is recycled, and to protect the environment for future generations. By instilling the morals of recycling into our own lives, community, and children we can create an increased awareness on necessity to prevent waste and recycle.
If you have ideas on recycling, please continue this conversation in the comments.
Featured Image Credit: Homard.net @ Flickr