Recycling items is one of the easiest ways to take care of the environment.
What is recycling?
Recycling is one of the foundations of the circular economy. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines it as the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products. For households, sorting recyclables is one of the easiest ways to take care of the environment. It is as simple as discarding appropriately, throwing things into the correct bin. Yet, only 34.5% of Americans do that regularly.
Why is recycling so important
Recycling helps to protect our oceans and rivers, animal life, and natural resources. It also reduces considerably carbon emissions thrown into the atmosphere due to human activities.
What are the major benefits of recycling?
- Recycling takes less energy than creating new products from scratch, using raw materials. Take, for example, glass. Producing glass from virgin materials requires 30 percent more energy than making it from cullet -the broken or waste glass suitable for remelting.
- Recycling conserves natural resources and raw materials: As you can see, recycling goes hand in hand with preserving our Earth resources. Most of the raw materials required to manufacture the things we use every day are finite. Therefore, recycling offers a magnificent way of protecting our resources from being depleted.
- It reduces waste in landfills: Recycling properly has a significant and positive impact on the environment. For example, it takes 100 to 400 years for Plastics to break down in landfills. Yet, from five 2 litre PET bottles, you get enough fiberfill to produce a ski jacket!
- It protects the ecosystems and builds healthy communities: By recycling, you avoid land pollution caused by microplastics and other harmful materials. At the same time, you safeguard our oceans and rivers. Ultimately, you keep communities safe and healthy, reduce litter and microplastics present in water, and protect sea life and ecosystems.
- Creates jobs: another significant benefit of recycling is its positive impact on the economy. Every year the contribution of this industry to the United States economy equals 681,000 jobs, $37.8 billion in wages, and $5.5 billion in tax revenues (Recycling Economic Information (REI) Study, 2016). For every 1,000 tons of materials we recycle, we indirectly support 1.17 jobs and create $9.42 in tax revenue.
The Recycling symbol: a continuous loop
Recycling favors a continuous loop, and the symbol we are all familiar with represents it quite well. For this virtuous cycle to occur, we must become aware of the steps to recycle items successfully.
There are many ways to collect recyclables: from curbside collection to deposit or refund programs and recycling centers where you can drop off materials. The elements collected end in recovery centers. They are sorted, cleaned and processed to incorporate them in the manufacturing of new products.
Become a wise eco-consumer
Buying what is strictly necessary is the first step to reduce waste. Yet, suppose you need to buy something. In that case, it can be an opportunity to support recycling and swap to eco-friendly options.
The basics of recycling
The proper discarding of materials requires understanding the waste management rules in our communities and educating ourselves on the correct way of sorting. In every area, we have centers that collect or receive recyclable materials.
There are basics when it comes to recyclables. The EPA has designed a fantastic poster you can download and print. If you have it near at hand, it will help you become familiar with the rules. The Top 10 that must go in a recyclable bin are:
- cardboard, paper, boxes, mail
- beverage cans, food cans, glass bottles
- jars (glass and plastic)
- plastic bottles and caps
The following are recyclable and must not be put in the curbside: plastic bags and wraps, textiles, hazardous materials, oil, and electronic devices or parts. All these materials will be addressed in the second part of this blog post.
How to sort recyclables depending on your area
It is worth mentioning that the United States does not have uniform standards for waste management and recycling. Each community decides the criteria and rules, depending on its feasibility of recycling certain materials. Therefore, you will have to research the local regulations to understand what goes with the trash and what should be recycled.
Usually, recycling operations work with either one of these two programs:
- single-stream: recyclables of all kinds go in a single bin.
- specialized: recyclables should be sorted depending on the materials and put in separate containers.
Recycling bin color codes
The recycling system relies on bins to temporarily keep the materials before the municipal body or recycling firm in your community collect them. If your community program is the specialized type, ensure you sort the materials in the proper bins. Otherwise, there are high chances they end in landfills.
In some communities, the waste system provides home bins. In others, you must get your own. Crazy as it seems, there are no universal standards for recycling bin colors, but this is one of the most commonly used:
- Blue: paper, cardboard
- Green: glass bottles and jars
- Yellow: plastic bottles and containers
- Red: Metal
- Black: food
- Grey: others
Build your own recycling station
Building a recycling station at home is highly recommendable once you become familiar with your local community rules. The best place is in the kitchen, near the sink. You can stick a picture of the materials you should collect on each container. Children generally enjoy sorting things, so you can invite them to help classify materials. By looking at the pictures on the bins, soon they will become experts.
Recyclables must be clean and dry
All materials must be clean and dry to be considered apt for recycling. Wash and dry bottles and cans before throwing them into the recyclables container. You don't have to be obsessive: a light rinse and putting them upside-down to dry will be enough before transferring them to the bin.
Have you found that you can't recycle the packaging of a product you bought? Write a letter to the company that manufactures it and tell them you will stop buying their product until its packaging is recyclable or compostable. The higher the pressure on companies, the more the industries will comply with eco-friendly standards.