Environmental Benefits of Household Waste Recycling
Recycling is the most important of the three R’s, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Recycling Paper, aluminum, glass and plastic produce large savings in energy and materials.
The battle against climate change can leave ordinary people feeling powerless, because it is such a large and global problem. Recycling household waste empowers people to make a huge contribution to energy conservation. Many materials are suitable for recycling but some are more ideally suited than others.
What Can be Recycled?
The most productive items to recycle are:
- Recycling Paper
Paper recycling offers great potential for energy savings and reducing landfill use. The Ohio Department of Natural Resources fact sheet Paper and Paperboard Recycling states, “Paper products are the single biggest component of the municipal solid waste stream, making up 38.1 percent of the material landfilled in the United States. Effective paper recycling efforts can help conserve landfill space and natural resources and preserve biological diversity by reducing the call to harvest timber from wild areas.”
According to Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2006, published by the US EPA, “Fifty-nine percent of paper and paperboard containers and packaging was recycled, including 72 percent of all corrugated boxes.”
Because of the widespread use of aluminum drink containers, recycling yields many environmental benefits. In Global Aluminum Recycling: A Cornerstone of Sustainable Development, the International Aluminum Institute states, “Compared with the production of primary aluminum, recycling of aluminum products needs as little as 5% of the energy and emits only 5% of the greenhouse gas.” Aluminum is ideally suited to recycling. The IMI also reports, “The aluminum recycling industry has effectively tripled its output from 5 million tonnes in 1980 to over 16 million tonnes in 2006.”
Glass bottles can be reused or recycled. The FAQ section of the Glass Packaging Institutes’ website says, “Glass can be recycled again and again with no loss in quality or purity. Glass containers go from recycling bin to store shelf in as little as 30 days.”
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ fact sheet “Glass Recycling” reports, “Glass produced from recycled materials reduces related air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by 50 percent. Manufacturing glass from recycled materials also saves 68 percent energy and half the water normally required in the manufacturing process.”
Plastic can be difficult to recycle. The many different types of plastic must be separated for recycling. Only “10 percent of plastic containers and packaging were recycled, mostly from soft drink, milk, and water bottles”, according to the EPA’s 2006 statistics on solid waste and recycling. Californians Against Waste website, “What’s Recyclable” says “#1 Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET), commonly used in soda bottles, cooking oil bottles, peanut butter jars and #2 High Density Polyethylene (HDPE), found in milk jugs, grocery bags, and detergent bottles are the most commonly recycled products.”
Rechargeable batteries and lead-acid auto batteries are very common and difficult to dispose of. The “Batteries” section of the U.S. EPA website on Municipal Solid Waste states, “Nearly 90 percent of all lead-acid auto batteries are recycled”. The Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation, a non-profit company servicing the U.S. and Canada, say in its website FAQ, “If it’s rechargeable, it’s recyclable! The following rechargeable battery chemistries can be recycled – Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion), Nickel Zinc (Ni-Zn), and Small Sealed Lead* (Pb).”
Most consumers recognize that recycling has environmental benefits, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions and conserving valuable natural resources, but their ability to recycle is highly dependent on the types of recycling programs available to them.