It used to be, trash was trash. Garbage was garbage. Life was simple. But all that has changed. The average home is now encouraged to practice refuse profiling. Before you toss something, you have to stop and think...is this garbage, recyclable or compost? It's enough to make your head hurt. But the question is, does all this recycling business actually help the planet?
Here are some interesting statistics:
Let's look at plastics.
Plastics are made from petroleum. Petroleum is a limited, nonrenewable resource. So obviously, recycling a limited resource is always a good idea. Where does my plastic go when I recycle? Take the plastic bench at your neighborhood park or corner bus stop. Chances are it is made out of recycled plastic. It is estimated that it takes something like 1,050 recycled milk jugs to create one of those shiny new benches. Think of that the next time you sit down at the bus stop.
How about aluminum?
Americans throw away about 35 billion aluminum cans every year. If all of these cans were recycled, we would save an amount of energy equivalent to 150 Exxon Valdez oil spills annually. Americans discard enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet every 3 months.
When you recycle, your used aluminum beer can returns to the grocer's shelf as a new, filled can in as little as 90 days after collection, re-melting, rolling, manufacturing and distribution. Think of it! Consumers could purchase the same recycled aluminum can from a grocer's shelf every 13 weeks or four times a year.
Today, the average jelly jar contains at least 25% recycled glass. Thanks to all of the people who diligently recycle their glass. The best thing about glass is that it never wears out. Consequently, it can be recycled forever. It is estimated that recycling just one six-pack of longnecks can save enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for 24 hours. Recycling one ton of glass saves the equivalent of 10 gallons of refined oil. Not bad.
Paper products reincarnated.
Americans throw away the equivalent of more than 30 million trees in newsprint each year. If you stacked up all of the paper an average citizen uses in a year, the piles would be as tall as a two-story house. The EPA has found that making paper from recycled materials results in 74% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution. This means that every ton of recycled paper keeps almost 60 pounds of pollutants out of the atmosphere. It is predicted that recycling half of the world's paper would free 20 million acres of forest land. Every ton of recycled paper saves approximately four barrels of oil, 4,200 kilowatt hours of energy and enough energy to heat and air-condition the average North American home for almost six months.
So clearly, recycling is worth the effort. If we all do our part, there will be less pollution, more available energy and a whole lot more planet for our children to enjoy.