It was bound to happen. I was in a monthly networking meeting of business people and got into a conversation about energy conservation, ‘going green,’ and what individuals and families can do to help save this planet. He asked the dreaded question: Do you recycle? I had to admit that I only do it periodically, which is another way of saying, “no.” What I got was a master’s thesis on why it’s important and why I can’t truly be ‘green’ unless I recycle faithfully.
Recycling, as you know, is reusing materials in original or changed forms rather than discarding them as wastes. In reusing material-or changing material-into new materials rather than throwing it away, individuals benefit, as well as the environment, as I found out.
Why recycling is important
I guess I never really thought much about ‘why’ recycling is important, other than it ‘just is.’ But here are some tangible reasons why I am now a converted recycler. I have seen the light.
Recycling saves energy
It takes less energy to process recycled materials than it does to use virgin materials. For example, it takes less energy to recycle paper from waste material than it does to create paper from new woodland, because there is no longer a need to cut down a new tree, process the wood from the tree and make it into paper. Energy from non-renewable resources is protected and saved for future generations, money is saved when less energy is used, and often pollution and emissions are reduced when less energy is used. Another example: Production of recycled paper uses 80% less water and 65% less energy, and produces 95% less air pollution than virgin paper production. I stand corrected.
Recycling Saves money and land space
Recycling reduces trash in landfill sites, which cuts down on the cost of waste disposal and the clearing of more land for new landfills when the current ones become too full to store any more waste (never thought about that happening). Recycling is an easy and less expensive alternative to clearing more land. For example, recycling kitchen waste and yard waste into compost provides a means of free nutritious soil for gardening, because most kitchen waste is biodegradable. It stays in the landfills for years to come, just sitting there and piling up with the rest of the trash-wasted. So my wife was right.
Recycling reduces air and water pollution
Decomposing waste often releases noxious gases and chemicals as it decomposes at landfill sites. These gases and chemicals create air pollutants. When the chemicals leach into the groundwater, it creates more pollution, eventually contaminating our water. This isn’t as far-fetched as it might sound. Years ago, when I lived in Colorado, I lived in a house that was a mile south of what is called a ‘Superfund.’ This, as I found out, was a place for the most toxic of all waste, and I just got a house a mile away. Not only me, but an entire community of homes surrounding Denver’s newest golf course. Within one year we discovered that our worst nightmare was happening-that there was evidence that the groundwater was in fact being leached into by the site. Within 6 months, 75% of the future home developers dropped their plans to build and our property values plummeted. We got out.
Recycling creates jobs
Recycling in the U.S. is a $236 billion a year industry. More than 56,000 recycling and reuse enterprises employ 1.1 million workers nationwide. More recycling opportunities would create even more jobs, without the loss of any current workers, which is a huge deal nowadays.
Recycling can positively impact wildlife
It can preserve wildlife. When fewer trees are cut down to make virgin material or to make space for landfills, habitat for wildlife remains. More habitat-more animals and less potential for extinction.
As you can imagine, I felt put firmly in my place. Seriously. I was convicted for not taking the time or energy to do something that is so simple, yet has a much bigger impact than I would have ever imagined. So guess what?
I have learned how to separate plastic, paper, and glass from other stuff. It’s hard not to just ‘scrape’ everything into the trash can, but I think it’s worth it. I am also not throwing away the plastic bags that my groceries come in, either. I’m saving them and use them to help separate the stuff. I am now a bona-fide recycler, having learned yet another way to help save money and help the environment.