A primary aim of the recycling movement is to reduce the amount of household waste headed for landfills. Recycling also helps reuse and conserve valuable resources, reducing the need for fresh materials in creating consumer products. Using recycled materials can also lower energy costs for manufacturers, in some cases by a substantial amount compared to using raw materials.
One of the most efficient forms of recycling is aluminum recycling. Aluminum can be reused repeatedly and requires very little processing to make it available for reuse. Manufacturers simply melt down crushed aluminum stock and add it to freshly extracted aluminum without any degradation of quality in the finished product. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, recycling an aluminum can requires less than 5 percent of the energy that would be expended in creating a similar can out of fresh bauxite ore. The Aluminum Association estimates that the energy saved in recycling a single aluminum can could power a television for 3 hours.
Seven major types of plastic are found in consumer products, and recycling can extend the use of most of them. Recycling plastic requires only a tenth of the energy needed to create new plastic from raw materials, according to Mike Biddle, president of MBA Polymers. (See References 4.)
Recycling paper not only saves energy but also saves trees, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere. The EPA estimates that producing a recycled paper product requires only 60 percent of the energy required to create one from fresh wood pulp, and the Energy Administration Information reports that recycling a ton of paper can save 17 trees. Recycling paper also requires about half the water normally used in processing paper from virgin wood.
Glass recycling is less efficient than many other forms of recycling, due to the processing required to return glass to a usable, raw state. According to the EPA, recycling glass only saves about 30 percent of the energy cost of producing new glass, and the raw materials required are in abundant supply. Reusing glass bottles and jars, however, requires no energy whatsoever, so you can reduce energy costs by finding new uses for these containers instead of simply throwing them out. Once you throw glass out, 1 million years will pass before that glass breaks down at the landfill (see References 2).
- "Popular Mechanics"; Recycling by the Numbers; Alex Huchinson; November 13, 2008
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Environmental Factoids; July 2009
- The Aluminum Association; Recycling One Can Saves the Energy Used to Watch the Super Bowl; Steve Gardner; February 2010
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Recycling the Hard Stuff; July 2002
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Paper Recycling -- Basic Information Details; January 2011
- U.S. Energy Information Administration -- Energy Kids: Recycling
Milton Kazmeyer has worked in the insurance, financial and manufacturing fields and also served as a federal contractor. He began his writing career in 2007 and now works full-time as a writer and transcriptionist. His primary fields of expertise include computers, astronomy, alternative energy sources and the environment.
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