Recycling turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. It is one of the most important and most immediately impactful environmental actions we can take. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average American produces 4.5 pounds of trash per day, almost double the trash per capita in most other major countries. The amount of trash each American generates has tripled since 1960.
Many of the items that end up in landfills are easily recyclable and can be recycled multiple times, thus preserving the natural resources and energy associated with their initial production. Some waste items, such as drink containers, can be recycled for a refund in many states. Other items, such as bulk paper and cardboard, can be collected and sold as commodities.
Benefits of Recycling
Reduce Land Filling and Incineration
Recycling helps keep rubbish out of landfill sites. Landfill sites store all kinds of waste and rubbish, much of which is not biodegradable, meaning that it will stay in its existing form in the landfill site for many years to come – perhaps many hundreds of years. This means that the landfill sites become full and new sites need to be found.
Prevent Air and Water Pollution
Landfilling can result in the leaching of contaminants into ground water. Incineration of waste can release pollutants such as sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides into the atmosphere, polluting the air we breathe. By recycling we reduce the impact of landfilling and incineration on our valuable air and water resources. In addition, plastic pollution of the world’s oceans has also become a growing problem by clogging waterways, damaging marine ecosystems, and entering the marine food web. Researchers estimate that 73 million pounds of plastics circulate in huge gyres of swirling plastic particles in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.1
In most cases it takes less energy to process recycled materials than it does to use virgin materials. For instance, it takes significantly less energy to recycle paper than it does to create paper from new woodland. Recycled aluminum takes 95% less energy than producing new aluminum. Saving energy has many benefits, including reduced product cost, since lower energy input means recycled products are often less costly to produce.
Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Methane gas, a greenhouse gas that is twenty five times more potent than carbon dioxide, is released from decomposing materials at landfill sites. Reducing the amount of waste will help control the gases generated, which will become increasingly important in the future. Action now will have longâlasting benefits.
Conserve Natural Resources
By making products from recycled materials instead of virgin timber, metals, minerals, and other materials, we conserve the planet’s stock of natural resources. According to the World Wildlife Fund, the footprint of the global economy now exceeds the ability of the Earth to regenerate resources by 30%.1 By 2030, it is estimated that two Earths will be needed to sustain human resource extraction.
Create Jobs and Increase U.S. competitiveness
The recycling process can create more jobs than landfills or incinerators. In addition, there’s value in the materials we throw away and the process of recycling unlocks its market potential. For example, $11.4 billion is the value of recyclable containers and packaging thrown away in the U.S. each year.2
We pay for the waste we produce. By reducing the volume of trash being hauled each week, you may be able to save costs for your company. Some recyclables, such as bulk paper and cardboard, can actually be sold as commodities and become a source of revenue.
1As You Sow (2013) Unfinished Business: The case for extended producer responsibility for post-consumer packaging. Retrieved on: December 8th, 2015.
2As You Sow (2013) Unfinished Business: The case for extended producer responsibility for post-consumer packaging. Retrieved on: December 8th, 2015.