What You Didn’t Know About Recycling

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What You Didn’t Know About Recycling

There have been a lot of debates on the pros and cons of recycling. The important question is, does it make a difference for the environment?

The short answer – yes, it is beneficial for the environment.

Annie Leonard, producer of the YouTube film Story of Stuff and head of Greenpeace USA says:

“Everyone knows the environmental benefits of recycling: it conserves resources by putting them back to productive use and, even more importantly, it avoids the pollution caused by having to extract, mine and process new resources.”1

With the world population tagged at 7.4 billion2 and with 5 percent of this number responsible for 40 percent of the Earth’s waste3, recycling contributes in the management of the human footprint and the reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases.

Related Post: The World Unites to Address Climate Change

However, in order to maximize the effectivity of recycling, it is important to understand its challenges:

1. The country with the highest recycling rate is Germany at 65 percent. The United States, which is the biggest waste producer at 624,700 metric tons per day, recycles only 35 percent of its waste. Also, most developing countries do not have formal waste disposal systems in place.4 This means that a big chunk of waste goes to landfills.recycling-trash-bin-inefficient-recycling-program

2. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 75 percent of waste are actually recyclable. But only a third is being recycled in the U.S. partly because of the lack of recycling facilities and infrastructure.5 Compound this with the incompatibility of local waste systems. According to analysts, an infusion of $1.25 billion is required in order for the U.S. to modernize its recycling facilities.6recycling-truck-facility

3. Recycling is costly. Investment is required for the appropriate infrastructure, sorting has become an added burden to recycling companies7, the number of people employed in recycling is quite big – about 1.5 million in all8, among others. The problem is, most recycling companies are not able to recover their investment on recycling considering that the prices of recyclables have gone down. The previous markets for recycled products, such as China, are either driving the prices down or looking for better materials. Creating or developing new markets for recyclables should be prioritized.recycling-in-asia

4. Some recycling methods are not effective. Plastic bags are very costly to recycle, amounting to $4000 per ton as compared to its selling price of only $32 per ton.9 Hence, a lot of plastic bags go straight to landfills. It is then important to develop technologies to make recycling more cost-effective.

5. Some materials simply cannot be recycled. Recycling glass is more detrimental than creating new glass. Toxins or impurities can make its way into recycled materials hence making it hazardous to health.10

separating-materials-when-recycling

Given these challenges, it is important that each person does his or her share for the environment. The important thing to remember is to reduce, reuse and recycle. This means reducing waste, reusing materials as many times as possible and committing to recycling.

Related Post: Starbucks Bucking Sustainable Practice: Non-Recyclable Disposable Cups Destroy Forests

Another new area that should be looked into is how Sweden is revolutionizing the recycling market by converting waste to energy. In Sweden, 950,000 homes are heated by trash while 260,000 homes get their electricity from it. This technology has led to only less than 1 percent of garbage filling up Sweden’s landfills.11

What You Didn't Know About Recycling - Eco Warrior Princess Infographic

Hopefully, in the next few years, new technologies will be further developed to improve recycling and waste management. For now, the important thing is to get your friends and family to work with you in managing waste. We owe it to ourselves, the future generation and our environment. 

We’d love to know about how you recycle at home or in the workplace. Are your housemates, family or work colleagues on board? Or has it been difficult to enforce a recycling program? Feel free to share your story so that others may learn from your experience.

Show 11 footnotes

  1.  Vaughan, A. 2015. Why is recycling important? You asked Google – here’s the answer. The Guardian, 11 November 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/nov/11/why-is-recycling-important-google-answer.
  2.  Geohive. Population of the entire world, yearly, 1950-2100. http://www.geohive.com/earth/his_history3.aspx.
  3.  Perfect Rubber Mulch. Recycling across the globe. Perfect Rubber Mulch. https://perfectrubbermulch.com/blog/u-s-recycling-compare-rest-world-infographic-2/.
  4. OECD. 2015. Environment at a Glance 2015: OECD Indicators. Paris: OECD Publishing. http://www.keepeek.com/Digital-Asset-Management/oecd/environment/environment-at-a-glance-2015_9789264235199-en#.WFK4JaKLQ9c#page4
  5. DoSomething.org. 11 facts about recycling. https://www.dosomething.org/us/facts/11-facts-about-recycling.
  6.  The Economist. Recycling in America: In the Bin. The Economist, 22 April 2015. http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2015/04/recycling-america.
  7. Matthews, K. 2015. 4 Reasons Recycling is Getting More Expensive. CARE2, 23 June 2015. http://www.care2.com/causes/4-reasons-recycling-is-getting-more-expensive-and-why-it-matters.html.
  8. Perfect Rubber Mulch. Recycling across the globe. Perfect Rubber Mulch. https://perfectrubbermulch.com/blog/u-s-recycling-compare-rest-world-infographic-2/.
  9. Handley, A. 10 Ways Recycling Hurts the Environment. ListVerse, 27 January 2013. http://listverse.com/2013/01/27/10-ways-recycling-hurts-the-environment/.
  10.  Ibid.
  11.  Braw, E. Dirty power: Sweden wants your garbage for energy. AlJazeera America, 27 March 2015. http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/3/27/sweden-wants-your-garbage-for-energy.html.

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