What is recycling and is it really worth the effort? Recycling is the process in which waste materials are converted into reusable objects to prevent waste of harmful materials. Okay, so you may be reading this and thinking “If recycling reuses waste material to make something more useful and less harmful then why is it not the best option?” “Should you recycle as much as possible or not at all?" Well, recycling is not a bad thing because it definitely has its benefits, but when it comes down to it, it is not the best option.

Before we dive deep into why recycling may not be the best option, let us look at some facts.

Should you be recycling? Here are the facts

We all know that there are tons of waste in our landfills and oceans. There was a post about all the waste we as Americans produce:

  • Over 25 trillion Styrofoam coffee cups are thrown away each year, in the U.S. alone.
  • On average, each person produces almost 5 pounds of solid waste each day.
  • The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year can heat 50 million homes for 20 years.
  • 24 trees are cut down to make 1 ton of newspaper.
  • The amount garbage and plastic bags thrown in the ocean has had an enormous and devastating effect on the sea animals.
  • We generate 21.5 million tons of food waste each year.

Think about how much waste is being poured out into the environment. If you want to fix it we have to start somewhere right? The direction we are headed in is becoming more detrimental to our planet. Recycling is just one of many things to turn our ecosystem around, but the last resort.

Benefits of Recycling

recycling benefits

Recycling can definitely benefit your community. Considering that it is one of the best things you can do to decrease pollution on our planet, why not look at it as environmentally friendly? Globally it reduces our energy consumption and gives garbage a new life. So, should you recycle? Here are a list of the benefits:

  • It prevents waste from going into oceans
  • It conserves natural resources
  • Recycling conserves fresh water
  • Recycling properly creates valuable resources for the U.S.
  • Saves energy
  • Helps create new well-paying jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States
  • Reduces CO2 emission; fighting global warming

Although there are many benefits to recycling, is it really worth it? The U.S. generates more waste than any other country in the world . Even though billions of dollars are spent on recycling each year, did you know that there is still a big issue?

What is the issue?

With any major topic there are going to be advantages and disadvantages. Recycling is one of those issues. It is not always the most cost-effective thing to do mainly because it uses many unnecessary resources, which in turn costs a lot of money. In order to convert materials into reusable objects, sometimes separate manufacturing plants need to be built. This would mean that recycling is not creating less pollution, but creating more in this instance.

plastic bottles

Recycling plastics (including plastic bags) and glass is not very effective in many ways. It uses up the most resources and is not beneficial to recycle. Instead of recycling these objects you can find ways to reuse them. You can read about plastics in our previous blog post and what they are doing to our environment.

In a recent Yale University/EPA study, the U.S. recycles less than 22% of its discarded materials and have not improved in 20 years. Consumers are also not recycling correctly which contributes to more trash that recyclers have to filter through to find the right material to actually recycle. When the materials are finally sorted through, the non-recyclable trash is sent to landfills, which unfortunately raises costs for the facility. When you as the consumer don’t recycle correctly, that also leads to contamination of the recycling stream. They can cause damage to the equipment used which can also be very costly. In the end, that is more unnecessary resources being used and more money is being spent than need be.


What you can do instead?

Recycling is not the immediate answer. We must first think about how we can reduce our consumption, reuse more often, repurpose to avoid waste, and buy things in sustainable packaging. This will result in less need to recycle. When you look back on our post about zero waste living, it can help you determine ways to live a waste free life. This post also covers the 5R’s with one of them being recycling. Definitely recycle what you can if it cannot be reused or re-purposed, but remember that recycling is not a simple system and not always the answer.

zero waste

When you have to recycle, here are some better ways!

You know how consumers are not recycling correctly, as previously stated? There are ways we can fix this major issue. For beginners if you want to make sure you are recycling correctly, make sure to call your local facility and see what materials can actually be recycled there. Usually there is a list of items on their web page that lists what they can and cannot take. If you have more detailed questions, then it is best to call and speak with someone. You can also visit the I want to be recycled website for more information on recyclables.

What can you recycle? Below are the most common items that you can put into your bins to be recycled:

  • Cardboard
  • Paper – Separate the paper from the plastic as best as you can.
  • Food boxes
  • Mail
  • Aluminum cans (Beverage and Food) – There is no limit to the amount of times an aluminum can can be recycled.
  • Glass bottles – Many facilities do not take glass, so please check with your local facility.
  • Jars (glass and plastic)
  • Jugs
  • Plastic bottles and caps – Remove caps from bottles if you can.

Although these are the most common items that can be recycled, it depends on your local facility. Before you add to your recycling bin, do your due diligence and check with your local facility first.

So, the question still remains. Should you recycle? The short answer is yes and no. Find ways to minimize the material you would be recycling, by thinking about the items you are buying first. Can it be bought in a different way? Can it be reused or re-purposed if you do buy it? Does it come in zero waste packaging? 

What are your thoughts on recycling? Do you recycle?

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