Why Is Recycling Important

Recycling is an important part of a sustainable lifestyle and in preserving the resources used by society. Unfortunately, the vital role of sustainability and recycling today is often misunderstood. Although many people are familiar with recycling in general, the depths of this action are subtle and often ignored.  An understanding of sustainability and recycling and the impacts of living consciously are necessary in the process of leading more meaningful and responsible lives. A greater understanding of these concepts is required for any one person to live in this manner.

To get a better grasp on recycling, an understanding of what sustainability means needs to be acquired first. According to http://www.epa.gov:

"Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other  requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment."

Here, in this definition of sustainability, lies the direct importance of recycling. Recycling helps to preserve the resources available to society and to reduce the impact of processing these resources on our planet. In reducing the impact of the resource processing, more clean water is available for use, human health improves due to less pollutants in the air and contamination of water and other life sustaining resources, and finally a healthier earth to live on. 

Recycling, in accordance with sustainability, or even when applied to other aspects of life, has many definitions and ways in which the word is applied to actions. The definition of this word from http://www.merriam-webster.com is ": to make something new from (something that has been used before); : to send (used newspapers, bottles, cans, etc.) to a place where they are made into something new; and : to use (something) again." These three definitions are just the three basic definitions of the word that encompass the entirety of what the word means, but they are the fundamental structure of what exactly it means to recycle.

With a solid understanding of what sustainability and recycling mean, the impact of recycling can now be explored. Recycling can save energy and resources as well as providing jobs for citizens. According to the http://www.kab.org the recycling industry employed over 1.1 million workers and  generated over $236 billion in annual revenue in 2001. The site also mentions that recycling rates are increasing and that new collections programs are showing a growth in the industry. Not only does recycling help to preserve our planet and resources, it is also good for the economy and for employment.

The breakdown of certain recycled materials can show just how big of an impact recycling can make in saving energy and preserving our planet. Aluminum cans are one such product that can be recycled that save energy. Recycling aluminum cans alone in 2010 was enough to save energy equivalent to the energy produced from 17 million barrels of crude oil (which is equal to about two days worth of all of the oil imported to the U.S.). The amount of pollutants avoided by recycling aluminum are also significant. Producing one ton of aluminum creates 3,290 pounds of red mud, 2,900 pounds of carbon dioxide, 81 pounds of pollutants, and 789 pounds of solid wastes. The energy to produce even one brand new can will produce twenty recycled cans. With the amount of pollutants created from making a ton of aluminum, twenty tons of recycled aluminum can be made! These numbers show that a substantial amount of energy can be saved, and recycling those aluminum cans can reduce an even larger amount of pollutants.

Glass is yet another substance in which the recycled material saves a lot of pollutants from being emitted into the atmosphere. Recycling glass saves 1,300 pounds of sand, 410 pounds of soda ash, 380 pounds of limestone, and 160 pounds of feldspar from being used up. With these amounts, Americans wasted around 11 million pounds of sand in 2009 with the glass bottles that were discarded (all of the rooms of the White House can be filled 12 feet deep in sand with this amount!). Recycling glass also saves energy; the energy saved from recycling one glass bottle is enough to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours, or to power a computer for 30 minutes or a television for 20 minutes! Think about how much power could be saved if all of the glass bottles produced were recycled!

Paper, plastic, steel, electronics, food, and clothing can also be recycled. Paper, plastic, and steel are recycled in the same manner as aluminum and glass and can save energy and water and also prevent pollutants and water contamination from occurring. Food can be composted, turned into energy (i.e. reusing cooking oil as fuel for kilns and other vehicles as bio-fuel), and also protein scraps can be donated to dog mushers to feed their dogs. Gently used clothing can be donated to many organizations and given to people who need them. Electronics can also be recycled. The electronic item is broken down; the materials are then sorted and broken down further to be made into new electronics. Recycling those old electronics means helping prevent contamination from lead, cadmium and other toxic materials and reusing gold, copper, plastic, and metals that would otherwise go wasted. This information and more about Electronics Recycling can be found at Interior Alaska Green Star.

Recycling, as shown from these examples, saves landfill space, energy, water, and the environment. In order to live a sustainable life and uphold the values of sustainability, recycling must be a step performed in daily life. By the very definition of sustainability, recycling is key to making this principle functional and meaningful. With energy and environmental concerns at the doorstep of society, recycling is a promising first step to take in reducing these issues and allowing for humanity to go on healthier and stronger. Recycling is more important to the survivability of the human race than is often accredited to the action.  Recycling is an important piece in the puzzle of sustainable living and with strong efforts to participate in this action, we can all make a difference in our environment and the resources that we depend on.

 

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