Recycling is the third step in the Reduce – Reuse – Recycle loop. While recycling is what we often concentrate on, it’s really the “last resort” of conservation — we want to prioritize reducing consumption and then reusing items, and finally resort to putting them into the recycling bin.
However, recycling is still a valuable way for society to save energy and resources by repurposing items that would have gone into the trash back into new. It’s important that everyone understand how crucial it is to conserve and recycle.
Fact #1 - Making paper from recycled paper uses 70 percent less energy than producing virgin paper. We create 35 percent less water pollution and 74 percent less air pollution when producing recycled paper.
Fact #2 - It takes 98 tons of resources to produce one ton of paper.
Saving other resources is one argument for recycling that doesn’t get emphasized enough. By recycling paper, we aren’t simply saving trees, we’re saving oil, water, and energy as well. Paper recycling is coming along well in the U.S. In 2007 we recycled 57% of our paper, ahead of the EPA’s schedule. This is a promising comeback. In World War II, 33% of paper was recycled due to rationing and conservation efforts, but after the war was over the number went down for several decades, until recently.
Fact #3 - Every ton of aluminum recycled reduces carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas) emissions by 13 tons.
Fact #4 - Recycling aluminum cans uses 95 percent less energy than producing brand new cans.
Before recycling was trendy, states such as Oregon, Iowa, Michigan and Maine were already taking back aluminum cans for recycling. They did this through “bottle bills” passed in the 1970s, which called for a deposit on each can or bottle to be made at the time of purchase, to be refunded when the buyer returned the empties to the same store.
It’s clear why the states enacted aluminum recycling laws long before it was popular — aluminum is eminently recoverable and cheap and easy to sustainably recycle into new cans or other items like aluminum foil, pie plates, or even license plates.
Fact #5 - Other materials may break down eventually, but not glass. Glass takes one million years to break down in a landfill. May as well recycle it!
Fact #6 - In fact, glass is so recyclable that most bottles and jars are already made of at least 25 percent recycled glass.
As you can see, glass does not break down or wear out. It literally can be recycled forever.
Fact #7 - Every year, we throw out as much steel as goes into every new American car.
Fact #8 - At the same time, the amount of steel recycled yearly could power Los Angeles’ electricity needs for 10 years.
Steel is in a strange position. We already recycle much of it, but we still throw away so much steel that could, and should be recycled. As with every item in this article, recycling steel saves energy and resources over making and using virgin steel.
Fact #9 - Mills College points out that “Every year we make enough plastic film to shrink-wrap the state of Texas.” Some would argue that this is an excellent idea.
Fact #10 - Plastic is remade into lots of cool things, like park benches made of plastic lumber and fiberfill for ski jackets.
Like nearly all recyclables except for paper, plastic also takes a long time to break down in landfills — 100 to 400 years. Plastic items are usually labeled with their recycling number, from one to six, indicating the variety of plastic used in it. One and two plastic is commonly accepted in curbside recycling programs, while three through six may have special pickup schedules or store/industry-run recycling initiatives.
There are thousands of good reasons to recycle; these ten facts don’t even scratch the surface! Do some further investigation into local recycling programs in your area.
- Rotten Truth (About Garbage): How much do we recycle?
- Recycling Logo by Krdan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
- New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Gee Whiz Recycling Facts
- Common Wastes & Materials | Resource Conservation | US EPA
- Plastics by dotjay under CC by 2.0
- Soda Bottles by Matthew Paul Argall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Stack of Copy Paper by Jonathan Joseph Bondhus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
- Steel by ashleigh290 under CC by 2.0
- Bottle Bill Resource Guide
- Mills College - Sustainability - Recycling Fun Facts
- Aluminum Can Sorting by U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Jacob J. Kirk [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons