We hear the drum beat everyday. “Save the Earth … recycle products.” “Go green … Recycle.” “More recycling … less global warming.” Recycling is about as common today as the Internet.
Ever wonder how much waste the average household tosses away each month? Most of it, of course, is meant to be disposable. People don’t ordinarily keep an empty tube of toothpaste, broken egg shells, used coffee filters or disposable diapers, but there is merit in recycling many of the things ordinarily thrown away, especially since we’ve all learned how much the environment suffers with each square inch of landfill garbage.
A profit in frugality
We certainly recycle aluminum cans and plastic bottles. There’s a profit to this frugality. These days, however, much of what we purchase in terms of grocery packaging, clothing, appliances—even a new car—is composed of some (if not all) recycled material, and over the past 30 years, this has helped to better maintain the natural world. People are now more aware of how recycling can help us improve our lives and save our natural resources. Every day Americans dispose of tons of garbage and, in turn, have become increasingly aware of the perilous state of our natural resources because of the health and environment risks of too much trash.
Recycling helps to minimize pollution, and one way we can do that is through conservation. We tend not to burn garbage today because this can harm the ozone layer and produce harmful gasses which themselves can lead to respiratory diseases like bronchitis and asthma. Southern California residents adore their shoreline, therefore heavy fines can be levied, when individuals or corporations are caught dumping trash into the ocean. Great measures have also been taken during the past decades to avoid tossing trash into storm drains, because these take discarded items directly to the ocean and affect or even kill marine resources and coral reefs.
Each time we reduce waste, reuse and recycle garbage—from plastic bottles, disposable cups (most fast-food outlets no longer use styrofoam), utensils, as well as paper and other plastic products—we’re saving the earth and millions of lives from the harmful effects of pollution.
More people are pitching in
Recycling helps preserve natural resources. Americans are recycling much more paper products like magazines and newspapers, and now there is far less clear-cutting in forests to supply these products. Recycling encourages “green jobs,” which is a benefit to any community. More people are working in the recycling industry. They’re collecting garbage, segregating and transporting it to recycling centers which, in turn, will transform it into usable products. Also, recycling helps to create awareness. The process has a ripple effect on people and institutions, because they learn to collect and sort through used items which can be transformed into something entirely new.
Recycling saves expenses and resources. Companies are relying less on raw materials which require more energy use in manufacturing a new product. For instance, recycling plastic material requires less energy than having it produced from raw materials. It’s more cost-effective and environment-friendly because carbon emissions are lessened and energy use is greatly reduced.
According to the website Earth911, in an average year, Americans will recycle 61 billion aluminum cans, saving the energy equivalent of 17 million barrels of crude oil. The energy conserved by tossing just one plastic bottle in your blue bin outback can light a 60-watt bulb for six hours. Recycling just two gallons of used motor oil can power an average home for one day, cook 48 meals in a microwave oven, vacuum a house for 15 months and power your television for seven consecutive days.
We’re saving more trees
Americans reportedly discard an average of 68 pounds of clothing each year, but purchase only 10 pounds of recycled clothing over a 12-month span. A study conducted in 2013 at MIT found that remanufacturing textiles can save up to 85 percent of the energy required to produce the same product (a dress, pair of trousers, shirt, jacket, etc.) from virgin materials.
Recycled glass is a mainstay. This material is now substituted for up to 70 percent of raw materials in manufacturing. The Glass Packaging Institute says that recycling just one glass bottle can save enough energy to power a 100-watt bulb for four hours.
There’s more. The National Recycling Coalition reports that by recycling one ton of paper, Americans save 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of motor oil, three cubic yards of landfill space and enough energy to heat an average home for six months. Kids don’t “kick the can” down the road anymore. We’re recycling the old “tin cans” and saving a minimum of 75 percent of the energy that would be used to create a new can from raw materials. This means that the steel we recycle in bulk contributes to a tremendous saving in energy … enough to power 18 million homes annually.
“What people don’t realize is that out of 21 billion (CRV-eligible) beverage containers sold in California each year, nearly 3 billion end up in landfills,” said Supervisor Hilda Solis. She was a supporter of the recent Recycling Challenge which took place during baseball season, aimed at teaching children about the value of recycling. The program encouraged the youngest Dodgers fans this summer to “strike out landfill waste,” and in just five weeks, one group of “Little Dodgers” had redeemed 1,070 pounds of aluminum cans, 1,184 pounds of plastic bottles and 2,735 pounds of glass amounting to 2.5 tons of bottles and cans and, more importantly, $3,225 in CRV value. The funds were used to purchase new baseball equipment … and some of the kids even came away with a little pocket money. In all, the kids recovered nearly $10,000 in CRV refunds as part of the challenge.
E-waste is latest concern
The ubiquitous cell phone and all of our handy gadgets—once they’ve become obsolete—are often tossed into the trash to go into our bulging landfills. This has resulted in another environmental concern, because these materials are not biodegradable and decompose causing toxic deposits. ReThink Los Angeles, a division of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works’ (DPW) Residential Recycling Program, says that if the estimated 150 million cell phones nationwide in 2013 had been ready for “end-of-life” management—that is taken to a specific “E-waste” recycling center—Americans would have saved enough energy to power about 194,000 homes for one year. “E-waste” accounts for about four percent of municipal waste, but may account for as much as 70 percent of heavy metals in our landfills, according to ReThink Los Angeles.
We know that trees produce oxygen and inhale carbon dioxide. Recycling elements like paper means saving countless trees and reduces the effect of harmful gasses in the environment, thereby reducing pollution on earth. Research states that recycling helps to reduce 10 major air pollutants and eight major water pollutant categories. The production of materials like steel, aluminum, etc. emits tons of harmful gasses into the environment that not only adds to pollution, but contributes rapidly to global warming. Recycling a single ton of steel can conserve about 25,000 pounds of iron ore.
The atmosphere of the planet has become more prone to ultraviolet rays because of the constant depletion of the ozone layer. The major contributor to depletion of the ozone layer is the regular burning of non-biodegradable materials thrown away as garbage. Take plastic for example. Earth911 says that if we recycle plastic, then instead of burning and releasing the harmful chemicals in plastic into the air, we would make a significant contribution in saving the ozone layer.
Easing pressure on landfills
The DPW this year submitted to the county board of supervisors its “Sustainable Waste Management Future” plan, which may assist with a countywide reduction in household and commercial waste. Specifically, the county wants to reduce the amount of trash placed into landfills and encourage more recycling and use of recycled goods.
The county’s Local Green Business and Market Development plan looks to connect more businesses that manufacture recycled products with financial and marketing assistance. A new field of study, Conversion Technologies, focuses on reducing the reliance on landfills and also to recover energy, fuels and other products from waste. Within the fields of household hazardous and E-waste, the county is studying the practicality of constructing additional permanent collection centers at county-owned sites, and preparations are underway for a new countywide Mass Debris Management Plan to be instituted in all 88 cities.
By 2025 the county wants to divert 80 percent of waste from landfill disposal; this plan hopes to reach the 95-percent threshold by 2045. One of the reasons why local landfills are near capacity is because unincorporated communities send about 800,000 tons of waste each year to these trash yards. The state government is trying to assist in encouraging more recycling with the passage of AB 341 and 1826, mandatory recycling laws which require commercial entities to sign-up for recycling services for materials like paper, cardboard, plastic, metal and organics. County officials say these new regulations have assisted them in identifying which of its facilities generate the most in solid and organic waste.
Handy tips for consumers
Recycling essentially begins with the individual. For instance if you’re at the supermarket, remember to purchase beverages in reusable or recyclable containers. Avoid purchasing packaged foods with disposable or non-reheatable microwave dishes. Keep your canvas or tote bag in the car and use these for bagging at checkout.
At work, print double-sided copies, reuse envelopes, proof documents on the screen before printing, save documents on external media instead of making hard copies and, at lunch, bring your own cup(s) and utensils.
At home, most people have on hand a 24-pack of bottled water, but these can be used again. Simply rinse the bottles with warm soapy water or vinegar solution to kill bacteria. In the spring, an empty (paper) egg carton is excellent for sprouting seedlings before transplanting. In this case, you can also use an empty toilet paper tube by filling it with potting soil, place it in an empty plastic ice cream or butter tub, plant your seeds and water. When the seedlings sprout, plant (tube and all) into the ground. The tube will rot away. You can use an empty, clean jar for storing leftover sauce or soup. Take old newspapers and use them as packaging material this holiday season. The kids can use the comics as book covers.
Almost any can or bottle purchased today can be recycled. Simply look at the label for the universal recycle symbol and the words CA CASH REFUND or CA CRV. Containers with these markings are good to go in your blue curbside bin, or take them to the nearest recycling center for an on-the-spot cash refund. You can receive 5 cents for most glass or plastic bottles and aluminum cans (those less than 24 ounces) and 10 cents for those equal to 24 ounces or larger. This refund has already been added to the price of the beverage when you purchase it. By state law, you can bring up to 50 aluminum, 50 glass, 50 plastic and 50 bi-metals and request to be paid by count. Most veteran recyclers will bring much more than that, and in this case the decision to pay by count or weight is determined by the recycling center operator. Just make sure your containers are completely empty, whole and free of contaminants.