The benefits of recycling by individuals and businesses include sizable energy and resource savings. Many everyday items can be reclaimed, reprocessed and remanufactured.
Recycling is a Process
Recycling is more than just keeping empty plastic bottles and aluminum cans out of the garbage. Recycling is a process that includes collecting a wide range of recyclable materials, processing them into raw materials and then manufacturing the raw materials into new products.
Benefits of Recycling
The recycling industry has become more sophisticated in its ability to cost-effectively collect, clean and remanufacture recycled goods. Today many items are made from recycled materials including:
- Newspapers and other paper
- Paper towels and other household and office paper products
- Plastic laundry product bottles
- Glass soft drink bottles
- Aluminum and steel cans
- Plastic bottles and jars
- Glass tiles
- Recovered glass in roadway asphalt
- Recovered wood in hardwood floors
- Recovered plastic in benches, yard décor and carpets
Save Energy and Resources
Much of the energy and resources that are used to initially process a raw material only need to be used once when the raw materials are recycled and reused This saves both energy and resources. For example:
- According to recycling-revolution.com, making recycled raw materials takes less energy than processing the original raw materials:
- Making recycled aluminum saves 95 percent of the energy usually used to make aluminum from raw materials.
- Recycled steel uses 60 percent less energy
- Recycled newspaper uses 40 percent less energy
- Recycled plastics use 70 percent less energy
- Recycled glass uses 40 percent less energy
- Every ton of paper made from recycled materials saves 17 trees, about 450 gallons of oil and about seven gallons of water. Every ton of plastic that is recycled saves the equivalent energy of 1,000 to 2,000 of gasoline.
The recycling of paper products can have a major effect on the number of trees that have to be cut each year. A county environmental services department in New York projects a huge savings in the number of trees that would not need to be cut down if newspapers and junk mail were recycled:
- Over 40,000 trees could be saved if all morning newspapers in the United States were recycled for one day.
- Up to 150,000 trees could be saved if as few as 100,000 people put themselves on a Do Not Mail list to stop receiving junk mail.
Water recycling is the reuse of tap water in our homes and water that has been "reclaimed" from sewage and treated. This type of recycled water is not used for drinking water, but it is commonly used in industrial processes, construction activities, agriculture and landscape irrigation as well as watering public parks and golf courses.
Every gallon of water that is recycled is one less gallon that needs to come from rivers, lakes and ground water sources.
Decrease the Size of Landfills
The amount of municipal solid waste - commonly called trash - rose 60 percent from 1980 to 2005. It probably would have risen even higher if many states didn't start to set aggressive goals in 1989 to reduce the amount of garbage going into their landfills. Some states have set goals to reduce the amount they add to their landfills by 40 to 50 percent. Recycling is one of the most effective ways to reduce our reliance on landfills. Cities, counties and states have set up recycling programs to capture bottles, cans and paper that were previously dumped into the garbage. These programs have resulted in nearly 70 million tons of materials being diverted away annually from landfills.
Manufacturing products from recycled materials often generate less air and water pollution than what would have been generated when the product was made from the original materials. For example, making recycled paper creates 74 percent less air pollution and 35 percent less water pollution than making paper directly from trees.
Using products made from recycled materials can also generate less pollution. An automobile made from recycled aluminum is lighter than an automobile made from steel. This results in the need for less gasoline to power the car and a resulting decrease in air pollution.
Reduce Reliance on Imported Oil
The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that over 200 million gallons of used motor oil is thrown away by people who change their car's oil at home. Oil can cause environmental damage and health hazards when it is poured into the sewer system or onto the ground.
Motor oil gets dirty but it does not wear out. Used oil can be recycled, cleaned and then used again. Check with your local garbage company to learn how you can recycle used oil from your oil changes. If they do not accept used oil, ask for a location where you can drop off your oil for recycling. You can often bring your used oil to an automobile repair shop for recycling, however, they may charge you a fee for the recycling service.
Electronics, batteries, solvents and oils can all leech harmful chemicals and gasses into the ground or air if discarded into a landfill. Specialized recycling programs are available to deal with these items either through safe destruction or reuse. Electronics are usually broken down to their essential elements with harmful components destroyed safely and other components recycled for reuse. In some cases, electronics are refurbished and reused.
For More Information on Recycling
- An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It
- Why Should I Recycle?
- Choose to Reuse: An Encyclopedia of Services, Businesses, Tools & Charitable Programs That Foster Reuse
- It's Easy Being Green: A Handbook for Earth-Friendly Living
- Beyond Recycling: A Re-user's Guide: 336 Practical Tips to Save Money and Protect the Environment
- Earth 911