Most people don’t think twice about what they put in the garbage. The average American produces from 3-5 pounds of trash per day, which adds up to 50 tons per year. That means over 200 million tons of trash are produced by everyone in the U.S. every year! Up to 70% of this trash is buried in landfills.
The scary thing about this is that even though landfills are getting tons of new trash every day, more and more are closing down because they are too expensive to maintain. This is becoming a widespread problem across the U.S. as states struggle to find alternative ways to reduce the amount of trash accumulation.
Only about one-tenth of U.S. garbage actually gets recycled every year, when in reality over half of it can be recycled into new products. Recycling is one of the most important acts to follow in our daily lives because it can reduce the amount of waste in our landfills, sustain our natural resources and provide better air and water quality.
What is recycling?
Recycling is the process of collecting materials that are often considered trash and remanufacturing them into new products that can be resold and used again. It is made possible by people who separate the recyclable products from their trash and send the items to a recycling center where the products are reprocessed into new items. Recycling can also include reusing products for different purposes in your own home instead of throwing them away, such as using an old coffee can as a planter or a milk carton as a bird feeder.
Why is recycling important?
Recycling is more important than ever because just throwing away trash in a landfill or digging a hole and burying it is not a solution to the waste problem. Most natural trash items like food can break down and decompose in a matter of weeks, leaving no trace of it in the environment. But for man-made products like glass, plastic bags and aluminum cans it may take months or years to break down. Here are some averages for how long it takes certain products to biodegrade in the earth:
- Plastic soda bottles: 1 million years
- Glass: 1 million years
- Aluminum cans: 50 to 200 years
- Paper: 1 to 5 months
- Disposable diaper: 500 years
- Batteries: 100 years
What can be recycled?
There are thousands of items that can be recycled and reused as new products. Listed below are the most common items:
- Glass Recycling – Clear glass soda bottles, packaged jars and anything with a “G” logo.
- Plastic Recycling – Plastic soda bottles and milk jugs, shampoo and motor oil containers and anything marked with a 1 or 2 code.
- Metal Recycling – Aluminum soda cans and scrap metal.
- Paper – Printer paper, newspaper, magazines and colored paper.
There are also many products whose components are recyclable, such as computers. And products that you wouldn’t even think could be recycled, such as automobile tires, can be broken down and reused on roadways and for shower tiles.
What are the benefits of recycling?
Recycling benefits everyone and everything. Here are a few reasons why:
- Conserves natural resources such as wood, water and minerals
- Saves energy because less energy is used to manufacture brand new products
- Produces less greenhouse gases because industries burn fewer fossil fuels
- Recycling programs cost less than waste disposal programs
- You can receive money for turning in certain recyclable products
- Recycling centers create 4 jobs for every 1 job in the waste disposal industry
- Recycling programs keep 70 tons of waste from being deposited into landfills every year
- Prevents the destruction of natural habitats
- Decreases soil erosion associated with mining and logging
How can you get involved in recycling?
You can be part of the recycling initiative by either recycling products on your own or by joining a recycling program. You can see a complete list of U.S. recycling programs by checking out the Environmental Protection Agency website.
By joining a local or worldwide recycling program you can help save millions of tons of recyclable products from being dumped into overcrowded landfills. Recycling programs give you an opportunity to meet others with eco friendly interests and prevents a large amount of land and water pollution.
Recycling glass products uses 40% less energy than making glass products from all new materials. Even though not all glass containers can be recycled, it is still very easy to make new glass jars, and those can be recycled over and over again.
There are over 50 different groups of plastics that are produced, and all are recyclable. Yet Americans only recycle 5% of all plastic products in the entire world. The best way to recycle plastics is to sort them by their number code.
Every day Americans use 100 million steel cans and 200 million aluminum cans, but not even half of them are recycled. Recycling metal can create new parts for cars and buildings, as well as containers for food.
Paper is the number one solid waste product in the U.S., and it takes 40% less energy to make paper from recycled paper than from fresh wood. Recycled paper also uses fewer chemicals, bleaches and dyes.
Every year 3.2 million tons of electronic waste, mostly from computers, is dumped into U.S. landfills every year. Many computer parts can be reused or recycled into new parts or scrap metal.
Americans discard about 290 million automobile tires every year, and many are being dumped into overcrowded landfills or on the side of the ride. Recycled tires can be used as fuel, for commercial flooring and for roads.