Why Do We Recycle?
Recycling is a big part of what we do in America. It’s a way of life. Recycling contributes to a better society, right? …but how? Most of the reasons we recycle are justified by the positive results that can be seen immediately, like when we pick up a plastic bottle off the ground and toss it in the blue bin. Other reasons are a little ambiguous, and many of the reasons we recycle are the result of misguided information, but we do it anyway. Recycling has almost become a religion.
Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s I discovered an easy way to make some coin was to recycle aluminum cans. Religiously, I would seek them out, finding cans in campgrounds, glancing into trash cans and stopping along side of the road while riding my bicycle around the neighborhood. Smashing them, and slipping them between my frame rails took little effort, and eventually I would have enough stashed to cash them in. I don’t remember what I spent my money on, but I guess that wasn’t as important as the thrill of collecting, and recycling!
Here is my list of the Top 10 Reasons Why We Recycle.
No. 10 ~ We’ve always Recycled
Recycling is something that most of us have always done, but it wasn’t always called recycling. My parents were children of the depression, where they were taught to never throw anything away, and they saved everything. Aluminum cans have only been with us since the late 50’s, and it’s now the single most recycled material in America, and every can is made of 70% recycled aluminum. I believe it was this innovation of offering beverages in aluminum cans that really got us thinking about reducing the extraction of our natural resources. The “Blue Can” represents a way of life that, for many, is common place. It would seem odd to see these vanish from our homes, because recycling is just something we’ve always done.
Because we’ve always done it is not really a reason to recycle, but keep it up!
No. 9 ~ Recycling feels good
Finding a smashed aluminum can half buried in the dirt that was discarded by a careless picnicker would appall me, but at the same time, gave me a rush of excitement in finding another 1/2 cent. My parents instilled in me the respect for our public lands, as my Father was a Ranger on the National Forest, and one of his first duties in the off-season from fighting fires was picking up trash in campgrounds. As I became dedicated to recycling (I have continued to this day), and finding aluminum cans for cash, it wasn’t so much financially rewarding as it was satisfying to know that I was helping to make my world a little less polluted.
Because it feels good is a good start to finding a reason to recycle!
No. 8 ~ Recycling Reduces Landfill Space
The general public didn’t put much thought into where trash went in the 60’s. Landfills are a relatively new idea in the 20th Century and up until 1976 when Congress passed the Resource Conservation Recovery Act trash was simply tossed in a big hole. We called these places dumps, and they were typically located within the city limits. I remember Granddad taking the trash out to the back 40 to their own private dump. This eventually causes a few problems, but it’s what we did. As a nation, we are generating more and more trash that by some accounts are in the neighborhood of 3 to 4 pounds a day, per person. Recycling has the potential to reduce these numbers, but we must look beyond the reason WHY we want to reduce landfill space.
Reducing landfill space is not a very good reason to recycle, but that’s okay!
No. 7 ~ Recycling Reduces GHG Emissions
We’ve eliminated dumps, holes in the ground and our Grandparents backyard trash heaps with sophisticated and high tech Landfills. These landfills are expensive to operate, and in order to be sustainable, they must turn a profit and be sited in areas where they can expand. Unfortunately, this means in remote areas and far from the trash generating sources; our homes. Regions in the Western U.S. are having to truck hundreds of miles, while some areas in the Eastern U. S. are transporting their garbage to other states. This causes a larger carbon footprint to the equation, that doesn’t seem to offset the tons of methane gas (a major GHG) that those old dump sites were emitting, and what landfills where supposed to eliminate.
Reducing green house gas emissions is not a good reason to recycle!
No. 6 ~ Recycling Reduces Pollution
In theory, this was supposed to be a great way to reduce pollution. Our trash would now become worth something, and we would think twice before littering. The roadsides would be free from paper, glass and plastic bottles. Furthermore, there would be no reason to see our parks, oceans and mountain trails littered with garbage. It seems, however, it’s only the destitute and crazies like me that stop and pickup others’ aluminum cans. If one is conscience in his efforts, trash generation can be replaced with recyclables, and thus the concept of Zero Waste will be realized, but until the manufacturing process embraces this idealism that everything can be recycled, or reused, recycling will never eliminate pollution. We also, as consumers, can start by reducing our demand for “stuff”.
Reducing pollution is noble reasoning, but not a good reason to recycle!
The BEST Reasons to Recycle
No. 5 ~ Recycling Reduces the Demand on Natural Resources
Recycling reduces the need to extract virgin natural resources that are needed to produce goods. Trees are needed, for example, to manufacture paper goods. Petroleum is required to manufacture plastic. By utilizing recycled materials in the manufacturing process, the need for natural resources are reduced. Sure it takes water to process used paper into pulp, and water to clean used containers before they can be ground and processed into a useable commodity, and sure there is shipping and transportation required to deliver this recycled to market, but studies show that using less natural resources are still a proven benefit.
Conserving our natural resources is a good reason to recycle!
No. 4 ~ Recycling Reduces Groundwater Contamination
Recycling is causing an environmental benefit that few realize. Through the awareness of how our garbage impacts our planet, and learning to be more responsible about how we discard our “stuff”, groundwater is being better protected. Chemicals such as Beryllium, Arsenic and Phthalates (suspected carcinogens) are being eliminated in the production of Apple Products. This not only affects Apple products end-of-life recovery value, but reduces the company’s environmental impacts during manufacturing. Technology is constantly being refined in order to utilize ways that, for example, put discarded automobile oils, used paints and other chemicals to good use, and keeps hazardous materials out of the waste bin, or better yet, out of our groundwater.
Protecting our groundwater is a very good reason to recycle!
No. 3 ~ Recycling is Required by Regulation
Legislating recycling is more about reducing toxins, and eliminating hazardous waste. As we move into the 21st Century, advances in technology and new gadgets are born utilizing newly developed chemicals, refined metals, special glues, and cleaning agents…we are also introducing more toxins! If left unchecked, these have the potential to contaminate our groundwater, pollute the air, and not to mention, harm people. Burying and throwing these items just anywhere can be dangerous, and is why laws are passed to keep such items like lead and mercury away from sensitive areas where they can cause damage.
Complying with health laws in order to protect life is an excellant reason to recycle!
No. 2 ~ Recycling is a Money Maker
There’s money to be made in recycling, but like any business, it’s all dependent on supply and demand. A very critical component is in transportation, and then there’s the processing of material, finding the buyers and recovering the material from reliable resources. The commodity market for recycled materials is fairly new, and volatile. More and more products are coming on line that utilize such things, like Styrofoam cups; something that just a few years ago was unheard of. There are numerous things that can be collected at home, given the space, energy and time required, has the potential to make a few hundred dollars a year in mad money. Plastic Bottles, Glass, Metal, Newspaper, Cardboard, Electronics and the wonderful Aluminum can all have monetary value.
Making extra money is a great reason to recycle!
No. 1 ~ Recycling Provides Material for Other Goods
The demand for products containing recycled material will be the driving force behind increased recycling efforts. Without a buyer at the other end of the equation, recycling will end. This can be as easy as shopping at thrift stores and purchasing gently worn clothes, or asking a tree pruning company for their woodchip waste and use it as mulch. This places a demand on items that might otherwise be thrown away. We call this a Circular Economy.
One of my favorite products made from recycled materials is toys! So much so, that I became a distributor of GreenToys and market them online through Skyforest Family Market. GreenToys is company in California that takes recycled #2 plastic and creates wonderful toys and tableware products for small children. Another favorite is from Phoenix, Arizona called, Refresh Glass. They repurpose used wine bottles and turn them into beautiful drinking glasses.
Contributing to a Circular Economy is the best reason to recycle!
Recycling has come a long way from the 60’s, where aluminum recycling was becoming vogue, and plastics were a thing of the future. It’s exciting to imagine what is yet to come as we continue to develop a Lifestyle in Sustainability.