The slogan “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has been around since the 1970s, but why are these three actions critically important? By taking just a few minutes to sort out your recyclable waste, you can directly contribute to the economic and environmental wellbeing of our planet, including reducing your carbon footprint. If you sometimes wonder, “Why should I recycle?” then give this a read to learn the environmental and economic benefits of recycling, what materials you can recycle, and how each person can do their part in preserving our environment.
Environmental Benefits of Recycling
Recycling encourages us to be mindful of our resource consumption, and our trash creation. By reducing them both, we can improve our local and global environment.
1. Conserves Natural Resources
Despite the seeming abundance of natural resources on this planet, they do have limits. We simply can’t rely on them for crafting new products forever.
- Almost all plastics come from the extraction of fossil fuels, a huge source of energy consumption and resource allocation.
- Paper is easy to recycle, but we still chop down too many trees, which are essential to maintaining our ecosystems.
These materials cannot be quickly replenished, so reducing our intake is vital. This is one of the most important reasons to recycle.
2. Reduces Pollution and Greenhouse Gases
Because recycling reduces our need for newer materials, it lowers the amount of air and water pollution created in both extraction and production processes. In fact, recycling is 194 times more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than landfills and incineration. By increasing our recycling efforts, we can remove even more harmful gasses from our atmosphere as we work to combat climate change.
For example, the most commonly recycled material, plastic, is one of the largest polluters during initial production. By recycling more plastic products, we can drastically cut the amount of pollution that enters the environment.
3. Reduces Landfill Waste
Although many waste products can be recycled, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that only 32% of trash is currently recycled or composted.
With 68% of our products ending up in landfills, we waste resources, take up valuable land, and create environmentally unhealthy zones. Increasing our recycling rates will help our communities and the planet overall.
4. Conserves Energy
Recycling materials into new products uses far less energy than creating new materials. It is estimated that recycling, composting, combustion with energy recovery, and landfilling of municipal solid waste (MSW) saved over 193 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (MMTCO2E).
That savings is equal to a reduction in carbon emissions that would result from taking almost 42 million cars off the road each year. Considering our low recycling rates, these are very impressive numbers, and increasing our recycling habits could make a huge impact on saving energy and waste management.
Economic Benefits of Recycling
Because of its relationship with the manufacturing industry, recycling can provide many economic benefits.
1. Creates Better Jobs
According to the EPA, recycling programs and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 681,000 jobs within a single year. The recycling industry also reports that, for every 1,000 tons of recycled material, nearly two new jobs are created.
Thus, an organized national increase in recycling could lead to a huge spike in green jobs, especially well-paying local ones. The economic boost created by an influx of lucrative jobs would be great for local communities, as well as the nation as a whole.
2. Lowers Production Costs
Recycling product materials, rather than harvesting and processing raw materials from the earth, can lower or reduce the energy cost of production by up to 95%. This saved expense can help offset what it costs to do the actual collecting and recycling of those materials.
3. Supports Economic Justice
The creation of landfill sites, as well as the establishment of natural resource extraction sites, disproportionately targets low-income communities. These sites can also lead to environmental degradation and toxic waste leaks in areas populated by disenfranchised people of color.
These environmental and economic injustices can be alleviated by increasing the rates of recycling. The well-paying jobs created by expanding the recycling industry can also uplift struggling workers from poverty, and help them financially establish themselves and their families.
What Can I Recycle?
1. Aluminum Recycling
Aluminum products can be recycled almost endlessly, making them one of the most environmentally friendly options available. Aluminum is so reusable that recycling saves 95% of the energy needed to craft new products! Recycled aluminum can be easily formed into new shapes, making the material a favorite of conservationists.
2. Plastic Recycling
As one of the most common materials used across the globe, plastics are essential to the recycling process. There are seven different kinds of plastic, and theoretically, all of them can be recycled. However, a lot of the material that could become recycled plastics ends up in landfills instead, and breaks down into our environment.
Unfortunately, only types 1 and 2 can be processed at most recycling plants, and types 6 and 7 are not accepted at a majority of most American plants. Before recycling your plastic, check the bottom of the product for its type, and then find a corresponding recycling plant that can accept that material.
3. Paper Recycling
Recycling paper and clean cardboard is a huge help toward preserving our planet's forests and water supply. One ton of recycled paper or cardboard can save up to 17 trees, and it also saves up to 7,000 gallons of water and 22.5 kilowatt hours of energy.
White paper, when created from recycled materials, produces 74% less air pollution, 35% less water pollution, and 75% less processed energy than paper from virgin fibers. Overall, recycling any clean paper is important for our environment.
4. Glass Recycling
Glass is entirely recyclable, and can be used and reused endlessly without loss in quality or purity. Once recycled, this material can be ground down into dust and crafted into new glass products. Recycled glass can also be used in production furnaces, reducing the amount of emissions released at glass-blowing plants.
Even better, recycled glass has a direct positive environmental impact. For every ton of recycled glass used in production, over one ton of other natural resources are conserved. This means a net positive outcome for our planet!
Why Should You Recycle?
Overall, recycling is an essential part of taking care of our planet for future generations. In addition to the many environmental benefits, recycling can deliver several economic benefits that everyone can enjoy.
Aluminum, glass, paper, and cardboard can all be universally recycled. Plastic is also important to recycle, but be sure your local plant can handle your product’s plastic type first.
If protecting the environment is a goal you have, Palmetto wants to be your top source of environmental news and insights. You can get started by checking out our Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate Tool today to see how much you could save by going solar, and the environmental benefits going solar would provide.