It’s an undeniable fact that everyone generates trash. And with current issues such as global warming, rapidly changing weather patterns worlwide, and climate change, it’s everyone’s civic duty to help and particpate in recycling. And we’ve all heard the almost cliched’ slogans to “Save Mother Earth.” And while this is very noteworthy, and relevant in these times, it’s not really about saving the planet, but more accurately, about saving ourselves from our own mess that we generate. Long after we are gone, billions of years from now the planet Earth will stil be here in some way, shape or form. But how long will we still be around until we are literally buried under all our trash? This makes recycling truly relevant for us and for future generations. And when it comes to recycling, the facts are a mix of the good and the bad. Here are 7 facts about recycling that give mixed indications of how we are handling and cleaning our own mess.
Fact #1. The Bad: Only 8 percent of the total plastic waste generated in 2011 was recovered for recycling.
This is a very sobering statistic considering the huge amount of plastic waste generated by the USA. In that year, 32 million tons of plastic waste were generated, representing 12.7 percent of total Municipal Solid Waste (MSW). Specific categories for plastics like plastic bags, sacks, and wraps recycled a little more, but not much at 11 percent. Conisdering all those tons of plastic generated, much more should have been recycled.
Fact #2. The Good: The market for recycled plastics is stable and even growing.
Markets for some recycled plastic resins, such as PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) and HDPE (High-density Polyethylene), are stable and even expanding in the United States. There are so many uses for recovered plastic resins that the market has no other way to go but up. Recycled PET bottles are used for carpet and textiles, while recycled HDPE is mainly used for making bottles. With further advances in technology, and the changing times, who knows what other uses for recycled plastic could be around the corner?
Fact # 3. The Good: Source Reduction in Plastics is hitting the mark.
Source Reduction is defined as the process of reducing the amount of waste generated from any product or resource. The plastics industry, through the years has successfully managed to reduce the amount of material needed to make packaging for goods and consumer products. Plastic packaging as a rule, is generally lighter than other materials, like glass, paper, or metal. This lighter weight translates to less fuel needed to transport the materials and results in less materials wasted overall.
Fact # 4. The Bad: The USA generates around 14 million tons of food waste.
Of that number, individually, a person on average, generates 106 pounds of food waste. Of the 14 million tons, 570 000 is composted for a 4.1 % recovery rate, with the rest occupying 6.3 million cubic yards of landfilled MSW. Through the years this translates to lesser and lesser real estate to dump our trash in.
Fact # 5. The Bad: Disposable diapers can last centuries in a landfill before decomposing.
An average baby needs 8,000 of them in his or her lifetime. If you combine those numbers and think of the exponential population growth through the years, the potential non-biodegradable waste that’s not gong to be recycled, from those diapers alone, is staggering. But there’s more.
Fact # 6. The Bad: Styrofoam cups are just as resilient to decomposition.
Styrofoam cups are known to last around 500 years in a landfill before completely decomposing. Americans dispose of around 25, 000,000,000 styrofoam cups yearly. But before you look at those cups from Starbucks differently, the picture painted is not all gloomy.
Fact # 7. The Good: We’re sitting on a potential goldmine from our trash.
Recent data from the Container Recycling Institute (CRI) indicates that 36 billion aluminum cans landfilled last year had a total value of more than $600 million. That adds up to an accumulated amount of over $12 billion in the past 20 years. Someday, we may be able to mine the landfills for that much value. It’s treasure literally buried under trash.
The mixed facts clearly show that there is a lot of room for improvement in terms of recycling our waste. It’s not too late and everyone can do their part. Simple acts like throwing glass, metal, and plastic containers in the properly marked recycling bins, can go a long way to helping alleviate the environmental problems we face. Also, cleaning the said containers of any residue or trash before disposing them would greatly help recycling efforts. Lastly, throw trash in the proper trash containers and not the recycling bins so as not to contaminate the recycling bins. Cleaning up the environment and recycling is everyone’s job and we should all start now.