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Cinnamon Carter

Recycling: Myth or helping the planet?


Recycling: Myth or helping the planet?  Truth or Dare (not to protect the earth)?

#1: Recycling uses more energy than making something new or “Save energy. Don’t recycle.”

The truth is – recycling aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy needed to make new ones from raw materials.  Recycling steel and tin cans saves 60 to 74 percent, recycling paper saves about 60 percent, and recycling paper and glass saves about one-third of the energy compared to making these products with new material.  The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle will operate a 100 watt light bulb for four hours.

#2: Items must be meticulously sorted for recycling.

When recycling was new, waste haulers insisted on strict sorting rules.  Many of the rules changed as collection and recycling machinery evolved.  People do not need to sort their recyclables like they used to.  More communities are using “single stream” systems where recyclables are placed all in one container.  Recycling steps involve washing, shredding, and crushing the material and often melting where food residue and paper clips are burned off or collected through magnets.

#3: Products made from recycled content are lower quality.

A few decades ago recycled paper was gray and rough.  Plastic had a reputation as weak.  Environmentally green products were assumed to be inferior.  But a lot has been learned since then and the consumer and corporate demand for recycled products have raised steadily causing producers have greatly improved their quality.  As companies publish their sustainability goals the use of recycled resins has gone from a low cost alternative to specified part of new products and must meet the same high quality and performance characteristics as new materials.

#4: Recyclables just end up in the trash.

There are claims that trash/recycling companies dump their recycling into the same truck as their trash.  However, this fear is way overblown.  There are buyers for recycling and the amount that goes to the landfill is insignificant.  While there are rogue garbage collectors who toss carefully sorted materials into the dust heap there is no evidence this is happening on a large scale.

#5: Recycling should pay for itself.

People believe that recycling programs should make money or at least break even.  What people need to realize is that cities cannot control world markets.  Recycling materials are economic commodities.  Their value rises and falls.  When oil prices are low, it is cheaper to make plastics from new material.  Buyers for recycling materials are not evenly distributed across the nation and their demand changes with other market forces.  Entrepreneurs are working on new business models to increase participation in recycling and make it more profitable for cities.  Sometimes it’s a net loss for a jurisdiction.  But the long-term economics remain relatively sound, especially since prices for oil and other raw materials are expected to climb.  Recycling creates jobs – 1.25 in the United States.   

It is clear that recycling provides numerous benefits to the environment and society.  Much can be gained by people being more conscientious about their waste.  What do you think?

Source: Star-Ledger, April 2018, Brian Clark Howard, Washington Post

Cinnamon Carter

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