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What to Know About the Benefits of Recycling

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 03, 2023

With the climate crisis at the forefront of the news, initiatives to help fight back against global warming are more important than ever before. While it may seem like a daunting task, there are several things that you can do at home to help out. One of those is recycling materials like glass, paper, and plastic at home or in your workplace. Here are some of the recycling benefits that you should know, as well as how to start recycling in your day-to-day life.

How Does Recycling Help the Environment?

You’ve probably grown up hearing all about recycling. It’s the process of collecting and reprocessing certain waste materials so that they can be used again. Materials that can usually be recycled include:

  • Plastic
  • Paper
  • Wood
  • Glass
  • Aluminum
  • Steel 
  • Iron

Unfortunately, 94% of the materials used daily in the U.S. aren’t renewable, so recycling helps preserve materials that are already in use. Using materials that are already in circulation not only lowers the need to process new materials but also saves on resources like water and electricity. For example, recycled plastic saves up to 70% in energy savings, and using scrap steel instead of new takes 40% less water to process.

Is recycling worth it? One of the top benefits of recycling is that using these materials again means that they won’t take up space in landfills for years to come. When trash piles up in a landfill it decomposes anaerobically (without oxygen), which creates methane. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is linked to global warming. Greenhouse gases trap heat, causing temperatures on Earth to rise over time. Methane is 34 times more potent than carbon dioxide, which means it has a 34 times greater warming effect. Landfills in the U.S. contribute so much methane that they’re actually the third largest producers of this gas in the world.

Types of Recycling

There are several different types of recycling and processes. The two broad types of recycling processes are internal and external. Internal recycling is common in manufacturing operations, like reusing materials that would normally be considered waste while creating a product. Internal recycling is the type that most people are familiar with. This is finding new uses for old products or submitting them to a recycling program to be created into something new.

In internal recycling, material that can be recycled goes through one of three processes. Mechanical recycling is changing materials like glass, paper, and plastic into something new without changing their chemical makeup or structure. Most plastics go through this process. The second type, chemical recycling, is a new methodology that breaks down polymers in plastics to bring them back to their original form. Lastly, energy recycling is a way to recycle plastic waste by turning it into thermal energy.

Breaking things down even further, there are types of recycling by material and the processes they each go through. For example:

  • Paper recycling
  • Plastic recycling
  • Metal recycling
  • Glass recycling

Are Recycled Materials Sustainable?

Recycling saves materials, energy, and money. Not only that, recycling helps to create jobs within the waste management and recycling sectors, as well as pushing for new technologies. What makes it all worth it is that recycling is sustainable. Recycling materials is only half of the equation. The other half is purchasing products that are made from recycled materials when they are available. When shopping for materials made from plastic or paper, for example, examine the packaging. You’ll notice that some products are marked to indicate that they are sustainable products made from recycled materials.

Did you know that creating plastic products uses up a lot of natural oil? Between 4-8% of all raw oil consumption goes towards creating new plastics. It’s projected that by the year 2050, this number will skyrocket up to 20%. This is not a sustainable practice and the numbers are sure to climb as time goes by. Recycling plastic and buying products made from recycled plastic is not only more sustainable but makes an even bigger impact. This shows bodies, like the government, that there is a want and need for buying recycled products and that more effort needs to be put into incentivizing recycling. By buying recycled and sustainable products, you’re showing that you care about the impact your purchases have on the environment and that you take a stand against wasteful consumerism.

How to Start Recycling

So you’re ready to start recycling but you don’t know where to begin? Luckily, many towns and workplaces have recycling programs set in place to encourage people to recycle. Even so, it’s normal to feel a little overwhelmed when it comes to recycling since knowing where to recycle and what materials can be recycled can get confusing. This confusion can be too much for some people, causing them to throw materials in the trash that should be in the recycling bin.

Recycling at home. The first thing you should do is research the rules and regulations surrounding recycling in your community and/or state. Each city is responsible for its own recycling program, so research how yours works. Some cities provide recycling bins for pickup while others have designated spots where you can drop off your own materials. Check with your city to see which materials are accepted in their recycling program and if there’s anything that you should know that would prevent your materials from being recycled. For example, some programs ask that materials be washed and cleaned before being tossed into the recycling bin.

Starting a recycling program. Recycling at home is pretty easy, but it can be more challenging to do so at school, work, or on the go. Find out if your school or workplace has a set recycling program. If it doesn’t, you can create one. Talk to others in your community to gauge what the interest is in starting a program and to designate tasks within the group.

To successfully start a recycling program, you’ll need to get the support of the custodial staff, management, or the educational staff of your institution. To make communication easier, one person in your group should become the official speaker to work with these different people. Once you have their support, you can work out how best to collect recycling materials and how they will then be delivered or transported to a recycling center. It may sound like a big task, but once you have all of the details worked out, recycling is one of the easiest ways that you can care for the environment.

Show Sources

SOURCES:
Boulder County: “Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.”
Britannica: “recycling.”
Green Education Foundation: “Start Recycling.”
National Environment Agency: “Types of Recyclables and Recycling Processes.”
National Institutes of Health: “Benefits of Recycling.”
Plastics for Change: “The Different Types of Recycling.”
Student Conservation Association: “How to Recycle and Why You Should Do It.”
United States Environmental Protection Agency: “The U.S. Recycling System.”
University of Colorado Boulder: “Recycling and Climate Change.”

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