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Why Not Recycle?!

Maybe you have real doubts about the positive impact of recycling. Maybe you think it is only "hippy" stuff. Maybe you have a school report due, if so sorry about the previous allegations.

This page aims to show you the many ways recycling helps us and the environment.

Turns out there are many reasons to recycle other than the good feeling you may get from doing it. Recycling saves landfill space, conserves resource, saves energy and saves water. Recycling is only the tip of the environmental ice burg; reducing your waste and reusing what you have will always be better. However, you may be surprised how much of an impact recycling really has.

Here is a quick run down on the impacts on the environment based on the materials. These numbers were taken from a 2005 US Senate report:

Paper:

Newsprint

One ton of recycled newsprint saves 601 Kwh of energy, 1.7 barrels of oil (71 gallons),10.2 million Btu's of energy, 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released, 7,000 gallons of water, and 4.6 cubic yards of landfill space.

Office Paper

Recycling one ton of office paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 3 cubic yards of landfill space, and enough energy to heat an average home for six months trees.  Further, manufacturing one ton of office paper using recycled paper stock can save 3,000 to 4,000 kilowatt hours versus making that amount using virgin materials.

Plastic:

One ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 Kwh of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million Btu's of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.

Glass:

One ton of recycled glass saves 42 Kwh of energy, 0.12 barrels of oil (5 gallons), 714,000 Btu's of energy, 7.5 pounds of air pollutants from being released, and 2 cubic yards of landfill space. Over 30% of the raw material used in glass production now comes from recycled glass.

Metal:

Aluminum

Recycling of aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source. One ton of recycled aluminum saves 14,000 kilowatt hours (Kwh) of energy, 40 barrels of oil, 238 million Btu's of energy, and 10 cubic yards of landfill space.

Steel

One ton of recycled steel saves 642 Kwh of energy, 1.8 barrels of oil, 10.9 million Btu's of energy, and 4 cubic yards of landfill space.

How does Recycling Save Landfill Space?

This is the easiest to understand. Everything you throw in the trash will end up buried in a landfill. In Santa Barbara County, while different recyclables are separated from each other, trash is not separated into different recyclable materials. Some Examples:

How does Recycling Save Resources?

Paper and cardboard come from trees, plastics from oil, metals from rocks called ores and glass from sand. Recycling means that we don't have to chop down, extract or mine to collect more raw materials for making the things we use every day.

The US EPA and other sources give us these estimates for resource savings for one ton of these materials.

  • One ton of paper recycle saves 17 trees [EPA].
  • One ton of plastic saves 16.3 barrels of oil [Stanford].
  • One ton of aluminum saves 4 tons of Bauxite Ore [MadeHow.com].
  • One ton of glass saves one ton of mixed limestone, soda ash and sand [EPA, Stanford].

How does Recycling Save Energy?

This is most clear from the resource question above. Take a look at Aluminum. It takes 4 tons of Bauxite ore to make one ton of aluminum. That bauxite has to be mined, transported, crushed, mixed with caustic soda, heated and separated from impurities. After that the separated material is smelted, which basically means being heated to extremely high temperatures, to separate the aluminum. Recycling an aluminum can requires that the can be transported, separated from commingled recyclables, and melted. Not only does the melting take a lot less energy, you aren't dealing with all the other processes you needed to do to separate the aluminum from bauxite! Take a look at MadeHow.com for more information about aluminum production.

This general rule applies to most materials: manufacturing them out of raw resources takes more energy than using a recycled product.

One way to look at this is to see how far an object could be transported before the energy recouped from recycling is lost. This information was taken from an article published in Resource Recycling in 2009. Researchers used the EPA WARM model to calculate how far you can ship goods by truck, rail and freighter ship before you don't have any energy savings from recycling them. Lets look at a few materials shipped by truck, the least effiecient method of transportation.

  • Glass - 2,000 miles by truck
  • Plastic #1 (PET) - 10,000 miles
  • Newspaper - 21,000 miles
  • Aluminum - 103,000 miles
  • Circumference of the Earth - about 24,900 miles.

What does it mean? You can send aluminum around the world 4 times on a big rig truck and you will still save energy by recycling it. You can't actually do that, since your average big rig can't drive on water, but if you switch to train or frieghter ship, the effieciency gets even better.

Still have questions?

Contact us with your recycling questions and we will do our best to answer them!

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