Recycling paper is a good way to save landfills, which in turn has a positive effect on the areas surrounding the landfills. How does recycling paper help landfills? The first issue is that paper takes quite some time to break down compared to organic matter (food scraps, leaves, etc.); the high volume of paper in the modern world fills up landfills quickly, reducing the amount of space available for true garbage (waste that cannot be recycled).
Unnecessary Waste Paper Sent to Landfills
In the United States, consumption of paper has been increasing for a long time, and the amount of paper going into landfills has increased right alongside the amount of paper purchased. The EPA 2009 fact sheet reports that a staggering 28 percent of the average landfill in the United States is taken up by paper and 74.2 percent of all office paper is recycled. The fact of the matter though is that paper is easy to recycle. Virtually all communities in the nation now offer paper and cardboard recycling, but not all paper gets recycled. According to Learner.org, only 25 percent of post-consumer paper is recycled each year in America. There are compelling reasons to drastically increase this percentage, especially the need to improve the way landfills function to breakdown waste materials.
Not only is paper filling up landfills when consumers first discard it, but many people do not realize that it can take five to 15 years for paper to breakdown in a landfill. When paper does breakdown in a landfill, it is usually due to an anaerobic instead of an aerobic process of decomposition. Anaerobic is a lack of air and is caused by the compression systems in landfills that reduce the amount of space the garbage takes up. While this process of compression keeps the volume down, in taking away the air pockets between items, the natural aerobic decomposition is prevented. In the case of paper, anaerobic decomposition is detrimental since it produces methane gas. Methane is combustible and highly dangerous, making landfills a greater environmental hazard.
As a simple function of the vast amount of paper bought, used and discarded on an annual basis, landfills reach full capacity and each time this happens, the waste either has to be trucked to another site or the community must build a new landfill. Building more landfills is expensive and unsightly and isn't an environmentally-friendly solution. Recycling, however, is an ideal solution.
Reduce and Reuse Paper
One way to keep the amount of paper you put into landfills manageable is to reuse and then recycle it. The old adage of 'reduce, reuse, and recycle' is especially pertinent when it comes to paper. Reduce the amount of paper coming into your home or office by signing up for electronic statements and bills. Read newspapers and work documents online. In addition, reuse the paper you currently have by creating a scrap drawer. Reuse newspaper for wrapping paper and packing material. Ideally, any paper that you want to discard should be recycled, or if you have a compost bin, shred it and add it to the compost.
Community and Office Paper Recycling
Almost every community offers opportunities for recycling paper. While you do have to put more time into your garbage disposal since you have to sort everything into separate bins, every little bit you save from a landfill makes a difference. Learn about your town's recycling options by calling your city's sanitation department or visiting the city government website.
In the workplace, if your employer has not yet instituted a recycling program, inquire and offer to help organize one. The key to making recycling work is to make it easy. Place a paper bin next to every trash can, and make sure the bins are emptied regularly to avoid overflow and discouraging co-workers from using it.
Shop for Recycled Paper Products
The other side of recycling your paper is to support the process by buying recycled paper products. If everyone who recycles also buys recycled products, then the sustainability of recycling is guaranteed. The next time you buy paper products, look for an alternative that's made from recycled paper. This includes common items such as paper for your computer printer, cards and even paper towels and toilet paper.
Keeping Paper Out of Landfills
While paper may seem like relatively benign garbage compared to plastic or chemical byproducts, it is far from a desirable type of garbage, especially with its volume. Reducing the amount of paper in garbage sites can be done by reducing the amount of paper you use, as well as reusing that paper. Ultimately you'll need to discard paper and when that time comes, choose to recycle it for the good of your local landfill as well as the good of the environment.