Why It's Important
As stewards of the environment, we are responsible for preserving and protecting our resources for ourselves and for future generations.
Getting Back to Basics
Recycling is really just common sense, and until the "modern era," it was a common household activity. Before the 1920s, 70% of U.S. cities ran programs to recycle certain materials. During World War II, industry recycled and reused about 25% of the waste stream. Because of concern for the environment, recycling is again on the upswing. The nation's composting and recycling rate rose from 7.7% of the waste stream in 1960 to 17% in 1990. It's currently up to around 33%.
The Garbage Crisis
The world has changed a lot in the past century. From individually packaged food servings to disposable diapers, more garbage is generated now than ever before. The average American discards 7.5 pounds of garbage every day. This garbage, the solid waste stream, goes mostly to landfills, where it's compacted and buried. As the waste stream continues to grow, so will pressure on our landfills, our resources and our environment.
Recycling—An Important Part of the Solution
Recycling is one of the easiest ways you can help slow climate change and global warming. By recycling at home, you help significantly lower carbon emissions associated with extracting virgin materials, manufacturing products and waste disposal.
Last year the amount of energy saved from recycling aluminum and steel cans, plastic PET and glass containers, newsprint and corrugated packaging was equivalent to:
The amount of electricity consumed by 17.8 million Americans in one year.
29% of nuclear electricity generation in the U.S. in one year.
7.9% of electricity generation from fossil fuels in the U.S. in one year.
11% of the energy produced by coal-fired power plants in the U.S.
The energy supplied from 2.7% of imported barrels of crude oil into the U.S.
The amount of gasoline used in almost 11 million passenger automobiles in one year.
How It Works
There are three parts to the recycling process; each essential to making the system work: collection, manufacturing and buying. These three components are so important that they are represented by the three "chasing arrows" of the recycling logo.
Collection: Don't Send Recyclables to the Landfill
In this phase, materials are separated from the waste stream and prepared to become raw materials. Different cities and municipalities have different systems for sorting and collecting materials that can be recycled. Most communities now have recycling bins for curbside collection, or recycling stations where materials can be taken.
Manufacturing: Using Recycled Materials Instead of Virgin Raw Materials
Recovering the materials is just the first step. There must also be a market for it—companies that want the materials and are able to remanufacture them into consumer products. Sometimes these companies have to invest a significant amount of money to adapt their manufacturing processes to accomodate the use of recycled materials in their products.
Buying: Close the Loop by Buying Products with Recycled Content
In order to make recycling economically viable, there must be a market for recycled products. If people buy them, companies will be encouraged to make them, and the whole system works.
Interesting End Products
What gets recycled into what? Sometimes it's exactly what you'd expect. Old corrugated boxes turn into new corrugated boxes. Newspapers? Same pulp, different news. Glass bottles into glass bottles. But some of the end products may surprise you.
These are just a few examples of the thousands of products that are created using recycled materials that would otherwise wind up in our landfills.
First Life/Recycled Life
Glass beverage containers can be recycled over and over again. But they can also be used for other things you may not expect. Like roads. Marbles. Decorative tiles. Surfboards. And a host of other products and materials.
Five PET bottles (plastic soda bottles) yield enough fiber for one extra-large T-shirt, one square foot of carpet or enough fiber to fill one ski jacket.
Steel and aluminum cans can be easily recycled for use in other steel and aluminum products. This not only conserves mineral resources, but the recycling process also uses about 75% less energy than using virgin materials. Recycled steel and aluminum finds its way into new cars, bikes, appliances, cookware and a whole lot more.