Why is recycling so important?

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Americans comprise only 5% of the worlds population, yet consume a quarter or 25% of the world's resources. If we would add to that the other developed countries such as Europe and Australasia, plus others, the sum would be horrendous.

In a lifetime, the average American will throw away 600 times his or her adult weight in garbage. This means that each adult will leave a legacy of as much as 100,000 pounds of trash for his or her children.

Americans use 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour! Sorry, how many??? And what is the bet that the greatest majority of those plastic bottles are filled with water? Bottled water which, in the great majority, is nothing but repackaged tap water. This is complete and utter madness.

Nationwide, 6% of all discarded plastic was recycled in 2000. 21% of all discarded plastic bottles were recycled.

While the majority of those plastic bottles, those made of PET, can be recycled the question still remains why we must have them in the first place. I know I am beating the drum again for the glass bottle and the deposit scheme for those but would it not be better to have bottles made again of glass as it once was and have all, including those vinegar and oil ones, go back to be cleaned and refilled and used again? I certainly thing so.

Environmental Benefits of Recycling

Recycled materials allow for the long term use and re-use of our precious and limited natural resources.

We would save even more of the precious resource of oil if we would not produce so many billions of plastic bottles used for everything from water over soda to tomato sauce and cooking oils and everything in between. Everything of this kind once came in glass bottles – glass after all is but sand, though in the main a special kind of sand – and glass bottles, if collected, and it would work if all had a deposit on them, could go back to the factories to be cleaned and refilled and put into use again, and again, and again, at infinitum, or until it broke. Then the shards should be sent for recycling into glass again. This is NOT rocket science. We have been there before.

Recycling Saves Energy

Using energy requires the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels and involves emissions of numerous air and water pollutants. Manufacturing items from recycled material uses less energy than making those items from raw natural resources.

Recycling in the state or Illinois saves enough energy each year to provide heat and light for 400,000 Illinois homes.

Recycling Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions in three ways:

Reducing emissions from energy consumption. Manufacturing goods from recycled materials requires less energy than producing goods from virgin materials. When less energy is needed, fewer fossil fuels are burned and less carbon dioxide is emitted to the atmosphere.

Reducing methane emissions from landfills. By diverting organic materials from landfills, we reduce the methane released when these materials decompose.

They still release methane, though, in the composting process in a backyard composter too... though the compost does good afterwards... the methane from commercial landfills would not have to, as I have already said in another article, have to ever get into the atmosphere. It could be extracted and burned to generate electric power, etc.

Increasing storage of carbon in trees. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in wood, in a process called “carbon sequestration”.

Waste prevention and recycling of paper products allow more trees to remain standing in the forest.

But before we even head for the recycling bin and the recycling center with our “recyclables” we should look at the “reuse” aspect. Look at each item that would be considered recyclable trash as to whether or not you – or someone you know – could not, in fact, make use of this item.

Glass jars, for instance, could also, like bottles have a deposit on them but, while they have not – as yet – they could be used by yourself or someone else to store things in them.

I have all kinds of glass jars and they hold tea, coffee, sugar, salt, etc. in the kitchen. Then there are those that hold buttons (also recycled from old garments), nails, screws, etc.

Most of us, I am sure, remember our fathers or uncles or family friends have masses of glass jars with all kinds of small items “that might come in handy” in their workshops and garages.

The same is true for so many other items, but to list all of those uses would break the frame of such an article as this. Maybe, if I ever manage to find the time, I could write a little e-book on this subject.

Recycling Reduces Emissions of Air and Water Pollutants

Recycling produces less of 27 different types of pollutants, when compared with using virgin materials, in manufacturing products and disposing wastes.

Recycling Conserves Natural Resources

Recycling reduces the need for landfills, allowing local lands to be used in more environmentally preferable ways. And, by substituting scrap materials for the use of trees, metal ores, minerals, oil, and other virgin materials, recycling reduces the pressure to expand forestry and mining production.

Unfortunately, the demand for some metals, for instance, presently, outstrips the supply, such as in the case of copper, and theft of this metal is now widespread. Still we do find though that copper ends up in the trash and in the landfill sites, arriving often via builders, small and large, who could not be bothered to sort those metals that are “waste” from their jobs and therefore rather just bring them in trash bags or such to the municipal tips where, more often than not, not sorting is done and everything just is dumped into the big hole in the ground.

Everyone must do his or her bit, whether householder or whatever.

© M Smith (Veshengro), April 2008