The environmental impact of recycling is tremendous. If you have ever wondered if your decision to recycle or not will make a difference, the answer is “YES”, it makes a huge difference — for the earth, for industry, and for future generations.
Recycling Saves Energy & Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide are greenhouse gases which trap heat in the atmosphere. These gases get into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), waste, wood, and certain agricultural and industrial processes.
They are called greenhouse gases because they enhance the Earth’s natural ability to store heat from the sun in the atmosphere. During the past century, an unnaturally large amount of greenhouse gases have been added to the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels to power cars, factories, utilities, and appliances. The added gases are storing extra heat from the sun which is likely contributing to global warming and related climate changes. The less fossil fuels we need to burn for energy means less greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.
Recycling reduces greenhouse gas emissions by saving energy that would be necessary to mine, process, and produce virgin metal. Recycling dramatically reduces energy consumption compared to making metals from virgin raw materials. In turn, this reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the air during the processing and manufacturing of virgin raw materials.
In 2010, 8 million tons of metal was recycled, which means that 26 million tons of carbon dioxide was not released into the atmosphere. This is equivalent to removing more than 5 million cars from the road for one year.
Recycling Helps Keep Air & Water Clean
One way to keep air and water clean is by making sure that potentially hazardous items are taken to a responsible recycler. By recycling, you can help keep materials such as the mercury switches in older cars and lead acid batteries out of landfills where they can corrode and leak dangerous materials into the environment.
In addition to wasting limited natural resources, mining ore can be destructive to the environment in other ways. For every ton of aluminum produced, 8 tons of bauxite ore must be strip-mined, crushed, washed, refined, and smelted to change it from a mineral into a useful metal. The mining process necessary to create just one ton of aluminum also creates 5 tons of caustic red mud residue which can contaminate lakes, rivers, and groundwater. Bauxite mining in Jamaica, Brazil, Australia, and other areas has caused suffering for people and animals that live nearby. Water poisoned by the corrosive mud can cause a number of diseases in humans, including Alzheimer’s disease and cancer.
Creating new aluminum also releases sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the air where they contribute to smog and acid rain. If the 50.7 billion cans thrown away in the US in 2005 were recycled instead, it could have prevented the emission of 75,000 tons of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere.
Recycling Is An Important Part Of Our Economy
Recycling is now a crucial part of industrial and automotive manufacturing due to the fact that using reclaimed materials is much less expensive than mining and processing raw materials.
There are also other reasons that recycling helps keep prices down. For example, the earth’s supply of ore would not be enough to satisfy our current rates of consumption without recycling. Even with recycling, high demand has caused the price of copper, both virgin and reclaimed, to rise. Recycling helps keep the price of copper from skyrocketing astronomically.
Because landfills are expensive to maintain, just throwing something away costs money and industries will pass those costs on to consumers. Plus, many cities are now enacting “pay as you throw” systems which mean that citizens must pay for their garbage disposal by weight.
How Can I Make A Difference
Making a difference is as simple as remembering the 3 R’s — Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle. Using these three words as reminders, you can help conserve natural resources, prevent global warming and climate change, save money, and preserve clean air and water for future generations.
Reduce the amount of waste you produce by only buying what you really need and will actually use. This helps reduce packaging waste and pollution produced by manufacturing. Substitute reusable items for disposable products when possible.
Use cloth rags instead of paper towels, drink from a reusable water bottle rather than a disposable one, pack food in reusable containers instead of baggies, and enjoy real silverware and dishes instead of flimsy disposables. Buy in bulk since it uses less packaging and requires fewer trips to the store, which also saves gas.
To make sure that things you don’t need anymore get reused, you can pass them along to family or friends, sell them online or at a garage sale, or donate them to charity.
Reusing is a good chance to get creative! Can you make any useful new items out of objects or supplies you already own? Start a compost pile in your yard so your food scraps and yard waste can be reused as an organic fertilizer, at no cost to you. Reusing bags, packaging material, and cardboard boxes also saves money.
If you have determined that something simply cannot be reused, then recycle it, whenever possible. Throwing something away should be the last resort. Be sure to take advantage of your community recycling program for products that can’t be recycled at Mervis Recycling, such as plastic beverage bottles, cardboard packaging, or paper.
Recycling paper in your home office for one year can save almost 26 gallons of oil, 273 kilowatt hours of energy, 467 gallons of water, more than one tree, and prevents four pounds of air pollution from entering the atmosphere.