IMPORTANT TO REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
There was a time when consumer goods of all kinds would just be tossed into the garbage once they had reached the end of their useful life. It was just easy to throw something away that you could not use again and replace it with the same item. If you grew up in a middle-class family with several children chances were that you had been recycling things long before you knew it.
Did you ever wear hand-me-downs? Those were clothing items that were passed from one child to another as one out grew them and another grew into them. This is the basic principle behind reusing something rather than getting rid of it. Over the past few decades items other than clothing have become recyclable. Plastics are a fine example of reducing and reusing.
Because plastic can survive for a very, very long time in landfill sites, and landfill sites were beginning to fill up at a faster rate than expected, plastics became a recyclable. Paper products have also been converted to items that can be reused to create additional consumer goods and reduce the amount of energy required to do so. All of these factors play a role in the 3 R’s.
UNDERSTANDING THE THREE COMPONENTS OF RECYCLING
The three R’s – reduce, reuse and recycle
– all rely on three major steps that fall under the recycling part of the equation. The recycling logo, which appears on all items that can be recycled, is in the form of three arrows that create a triangle shape. The three components of recycling are represented in that logo as collection, manufacturing and buying.
COLLECTION – KEEPING RECYCLABLE PRODUCTS OUT OF THE LANDFILL
Many municipalities have recycling programs in place. They typically put the onus on the consumer to separate their recyclables before loading up their weekly trash.
By separating plastics from paper and glass ensures that these products can be directed to where they should go in order to be reused. By not separating recyclables, plastics, paper and glass end up in the landfill.
MANUFACTURING – CREATING ITEMS WITH RECYCLED MATERIAL INSTEAD OF RAW
-Companies in search of the recycled materials are who re-manufacture them into new consumer products. It sometimes requires a significant investment on the part of the company to adapt their manufacturing process to accommodate recycled products into their new products. However, more and more manufacturers are addressing this issue within their manufacturing process. It continues to change.
BUYING – BY BUYING PRODUCTS WITH RECYCLED MATERIAL WE COMPLETE THE LOOP
Recycling has to be economically viable. This is why it is so important for markets to exist that use recycled products. Many paper, plastic and glass manufacturing companies have developed ‘new’ products that are made from a mixture of virgin raw materials and recycled materials.
As long as consumers buy these items, the manufacturers will be encouraged to continue to move into the ‘reuse’ phase.
SORTING IT OUT
So, what’s the big deal about separating your recyclables?
You would think that by keeping them out of the landfill would be good enough. However, when recyclables are contaminated by garbage it adds to the amount of work required in order to prepare the paper, plastic and glass for market. The easy way to save on this step is to have you – the consumer – do the sorting before you take the recyclables into the recycle depot or leave them curbside for pickup.
There are specific standards related to the amount of containments that are allowed. In order for recycling depots to earn revenue through the sale of recycled items, they must meet these standards. It actually makes sense when you think about it. For example, glass that has ink and other toxic liquids on it would require additional cleaning to prepare it for remanufacture. But if the glass is separated from those toxic items, the glass would be cleaner and easier to process.
WHAT MAKES RECYCLING WORTHWHILE
If you are still not convinced that the 3 R’s are such a big deal for a very good reason, maybe this will help. Recycling is considered one of the most successful environmental success stories
in the latter half of the 20th Century. It has been proven to remove waste from landfill sites that otherwise just sit rather than be turned into useful ‘new’ products. In 2003, recycling efforts in the United States diverted over 72-million tons of reusable materials from landfill sites.
THE BENEFITS OF RECYCLING
Remember the three main components of recycling? Collecting is the first step and many different benefits can be traced from this very first action. The returns fall under three main categories including financial, environmental and societal. Here is a closer look at those many benefits:
Recycling not only protects manufacturing jobs, it actually expands the number of jobs in this field. It also works to increase the competitiveness of these types of jobs in the global marketplace. In total, about 1.1-million new jobs have been created as a result of recycling.
Reusing materials for the creation of new items saves energy. It also reduces the amount of pollution caused by the extraction and processing of raw materials and the manufacturing of those raw materials into consumer products.
Recycling has a direct impact on the emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG). In fact, it decreases the volume of the emissions which have been identified as having a contribution to global climate change.
The manufacturing processes used in producing new products from recycled items conserves natural resources including timber, minerals and water. The fact that these natural resources are not used as much as when producing consumer goods from raw materials means that the natural resources will last longer.
Recycling quite simply sustains the environment for many generations to come. Do you want to live in an environment full of waste? I think not.
When you recycle you are not only supporting the recycling efforts of your community, but you are ensuring that jobs created as a result are sustainable. With more jobs being created to meet the demand of recycling projects, it feeds the local economy in several different ways. More people earning a decent wage will make use of retail and commercial services provided in your community which in turn keeps these businesses in operation.
RECYCLING IS JUST PART OF THE PICTURE
It’s true. If you recycle in your home, you are playing an active part in the pyramid that makes up the internationally recognized recycling logo. However, you can actually do a lot more which will further reduce your carbon footprint and give you a bigger part of the puzzle to claim.
All you have to do is actually reduce the amount of waste you and your household produces. How exactly do you do that? The simple answer is to reuse all that you can that would otherwise become waste tossed into the landfill.
THE TOP OF THE WASTE MANAGEMENT PROGRAM
Waste management essentially begins with you. Your first goal is to reduce the amount of waste you produce. You do this by reusing whenever possible. Your next step is to recycle. You would be recycling those things that you cannot find a reuse for. If the waste you have produced cannot be reused or recycled, then the only other option is to dispose of it in the landfill. What you have done by following a waste management plan
is diverted the path of waste. Instead of waste you have produced going directly to the landfill, you first try to reuse or recycle it.
The reason why waste management is at the top of a waste reduction plan is also simple. The best way to manage waste – which is also the most effective and logical – is by not producing waste in the first place. It boils down to you throwing away less garbage and either making use of materials in different ways or separating them and shipping them off to the recycle depot so that they can be re-manufactured into newer consumer products. In other words, if you buy only what you need, you should have little waste after you have used it all.
But still waste is going to be produced. There really is no way to completely avoid it. However, with less waste produced, it is easier to manage. That is why recycling is the next step in the process. The small amount of waste produced by items that cannot be reused may actually be recyclable. Once all the recyclables are removed from that waste, the amount of waste that remains should be even less. This is now far more manageable. The little waste that remains after reusing and recycling can then go to the landfill which will be far less that it would have been.
WHY BOTHER TO REDUCE, REUSE AND RECYCLE IF LANDFILL SPACE IS BEING SAVED?
That may be a valid question to ask. But we have to first take a look at the fact that landfill sites
have existed for longer than recycling programs. This means that there is already a great deal of unusable land taking up space in places where development could have happened. In your community there will be a landfill site that has occupied the same piece of land for many decades. It will have also expanded somewhat as the community has grown. This property will never be able to be used for anything other than waste collection.
Developing new sites for landfill is even more difficult than before simply because of the way in which the land it occupies is impacted over the years. Yes, standards have been implemented that carefully control the types of products and contaminants that will be accepted in a landfill site. However, with so much focus on the 3 R’s in today’s world, landfill sites are viewed as a last resort and often are heavily regulated as a result. By reducing, reusing and recycling you are actually extending the life of your local landfill site by not adding a lot of waste to it.
BURYING THE LANDFILL JUST HIDES THE PROBLEM
Decomposition takes place when the right elements are present. They are air, water and light. With the average sanitary landfill site is a regular routine of covering the items dropped off at the site either daily or weekly. In theory, this speeds up composition but in reality, a seal is created each time the landfill is covered. It reduces the amount of air, water and light that can penetrate the top layers of waste. As more waste is added, there are additional layers that are created. The lower layers get compacted but may not decompose entirely adding to the volume of waste.
Essentially, your local landfill site started as a very large hole in the ground at a location far enough from your community that it would not become a problem.
For example, landfill sites can produce foul odors, attract pests and create noise pollution from various sources on site.
Plus, with a properly planned landfill site, it should be located far enough away from the community to not become an issue as the community experiences growth. Even with all of these precautions factored into the planning, landfill sites still only have a limited lifespan.
LANDFILLS ALSO CONTRIBUTE TO GREENHOUSE GAS EMISSIONS
After a landfill site has reached the end of its life it is sealed which further slows the decomposition process. While there is some breakdown of waste products, landfill sites produce high concentrations of methane gas. Methane gas
is extremely combustible and must be tapped and burned off to prevent explosions or other incidents. The problem that results is that methane happens to be a greenhouse gas which will stay in the atmosphere for between 10 and 15 years. It is also 20 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide is.
REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE - SHORT REVIEW
The 3 R’s are reduce, reuse and recycle. By following these steps in your home and business, you can easily implement a waste management program. The ultimate goal you should have in that plan is to end up with far less waste to take to your landfill site or leave at the curbside for pickup for delivery to the landfill site. When you use the 3 R’s in your life, you save land from being developed into a landfill site. Landfill sites eat up valuable property that could be otherwise developed for something useful in your community.
The 3 R’s also greatly preserve natural resources including timber, water and minerals that are typically required to produce new products. Manufacturing plants are also leading the way in adapting how their products are made by creating processes that can create the same products but with a percentage of recycled materials added to the formula. The 3 R’s are also responsible for reducing the amount of greenhouse gases that are sent into the atmosphere and as a result, reduces the amount of heat trapped within our atmosphere affecting climate change.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF RECYCLING
We’ve already hinted at the economic benefits
that come from recycling. Communities that have established recycling depots can eliminate disposal costs by selling those recycled materials. But there is a greater benefit to you and your community.
It has already been noted that the recycling industry has created well over a million new jobs but here’s the most interesting part about that: those jobs generate an annual payroll of over $37-million and gross well over $236-billion in revenues. Those revenues come from the sale of recycled materials to manufacturing companies who reuse them in their ‘new’ products.
MORE NUMBERS AND STATS
A 2001 report produced by the National Recycling Coalition
in the United States is where the numbers mentioned in this article originate. They also include further data that will explain how significant the recycling industry has become. The NRC commissioned a US Recycling Economic Information Study that indicates that those 1.1-million jobs in the industry represent over 56,000 recycling depots and businesses across the country. The report adds that the number of workers in the recycling industry is comparable to other well-established industries.
For example, there are as many people working and earning wages in the recycling industry as there are in the automobile manufacturing industry and far more than are currently employed in the mining and waste management and disposal (landfill) industries. Speaking of wages, the average wage for a worker in the recycling industry happens to be somewhat higher than the average wage for all other industries in the US.
FINAL THOUGHT ON REDUCE, REUSE, RECYCLE
The evidence is there. Reducing, reusing and recycling
makes good sense. It is also easy to start to do in your home or business. You can start simple just be separating glass, paper and plastic from your regular garbage. You’ll be amazed at how much this will reduce the amount of waste you will dispose of on a weekly basis.
Once you get into the habit of doing this, you’ll soon start to see ways in which you can reuse things you would normally throw out. Recycling is a bit of a lifestyle change for many but it will eventually become a regular part of your daily life.