Recycling, including composting, diverted 82 million tons of material away from disposal in 2006, up from 15 million tons in 1980, when the recycle rate was just 10% and 90% of MSW was being combusted with energy recovery or disposed of by landfilling.
Typical materials that are recycled include batteries, recycled at a rate of 99%, paper and paperboard at 52%, and yard trimmings at 62%. These materials and others may be recycled through curbside programs, drop-off centers, buy-back programs, and deposit systems.
Recycling prevents the emission of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants, saves energy, supplies valuable raw materials to industry, creates jobs, stimulates the development of greener technologies, conserves resources for our children's future, and reduces the need for new landfills and combustors.
Recycling also helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions that affect global climate. In 1996, recycling of solid waste In the United States prevented the release of 33 million tons of carbon into the air-roughly the amount emitted annually by 25 million cars.
According to the EPA1, the average U.S. citizen produced 4.4 pounds of waste per day during 2000. This is the equivalent of over 1600 pounds of trash per year per person or more than 220 tons of waste being generated each year.
Trash comes from many sources, including bottles, boxes, cans, yard trimmings, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, newspapers, and much more. Americans also dispose of several million tons of tires, appliances, furniture, paper, clothing, and other durable and non-durable goods each year as well. Packaging waste, including glass, aluminum, plastics, metals, paper, and paperboard, also contributes significantly to our annual waste totals. Even yard trimmings, such as grass clippings and tree limbs, are a substantial part of what is thrown away.
According to the EPA, below is an estimate of the type and percentage of waste products generated by Americans today.
Trash Type Percentage Tonnage Paper 40.4% 71.6 million tons Yard Trimmings 17.6% 31.6 million tons Metals 8.5% 15.3 million tons Plastics 8.0% 14.4 million tons Food Scraps 7.4% 13.2 million tons Glass 7.0% 12.5 million tons Other* 11.6% 20.8 million tons *(e.g., rubber, leather, textiles, wood, miscellaneous inorganic wastes)
The good news? Americans are embracing recycling programs in records numbers. The EPA estimates that over 30% of the waste produced by Americans during 2000 actually ended up in recycling programs. Commonly recycled items include certain plastics, paper, and cardboard.
Certain communities and businesses have also established recycling programs for some of the more toxic products produced by our society, including batteries, printer/toner cartridges, computers, and even used oil!
Many of the plastic products we use today are either recyclable or made of recycled materials. You have probably noticed that most products made from plastic have a code inside of a triangle on the bottom surface of the container. Have you ever wondered what those codes mean?
The Society of the Plastics Industry developed a numerical coding system in the late 1980s to help indicate which plastic material has been used for a given product. There are six different types of plastic resins that are commonly used to package household products. An explanation for each code is provided below:
"1" - PETE or Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)
PET is used to produce soda and water containers as well as some waterproof packaging. The largest use for recycled PET is in textiles, such as carpets. PET is also spun to make fiber fillings for pillows, quilts, and jackets. PET can also be used in video and audio cassettes. In addition, a substantial quantity goes back into the bottle market. Many community recycling programs accept plastic products labeled with a "1."
"2" - HDPE or High-Density Polyethylene
HDPE is used to produce milk, detergent, and oil bottles, as well as toys and plastic bags. Recycled HDPE is used for plastic pipes, lumber, flower pots, trash cans, or formed into bottles for nonfood applications. Many community recycling programs accept plastic products labeled with a "2."
"3" - Vinyl/Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
Used to produce food wrap, vegetable oil bottles, blister packages. Some community recycling programs do not take plastics labeled with a "3."
"4" - LDPE Low-Density Polyethylene
Used for plastic bags, shrink wrap, or garment bags. Some community recycling programs do not accept plastics labeled with a "4."
"5" - PP Polypropylene
Used to produce refrigerated containers, some bags, most bottle tops, some carpets, some food wrap. Some community recycling programs do not accept plastics labeled with a "5."
"6" - PS Polystyrene
Used for throwaway utensils, meat packing, and protective packing. Some community recycling programs will accept plastics labeled with a "6."
"7" - Other
What You Can Do to Reduce Waste There are many actions we can take to reduce the amount of waste we generate or that we send to the landfill. Challenge yourself (or even your family and friends) to see just how much waste you can reduce from your weekly curbside pickup. Can you reduce your weekly waste by 25%, 30%, or even 50%? Below are some tips to help you.
* Reuse products. If you do not have a recycling program in your community, or if the material or product is not currently recyclable, try to find another use for the product rather than throwing it away.
* Compost organic material. Composting yard trimmings, food scraps, and other organic wastes can dramatically reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills. To learn more about how to set up your own composting bin, the EPA has developed an online Composting is Easy guide, which consumers can access via the EPA website at http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/reduce/catbook/compost.htm.
* Use paper bags rather than plastic. Ask your grocer to carry paper grocery bags instead of plastic.
* Sell or donate products you can no longer use, such as clothing and furniture.
* Recycle, recycle, recycle!!! Take advantage of your community's recycling program, if one is available. If your community does not have such a program, volunteer to start one. Some organizations estimate that the average family can reduce their weekly waste by 50% through recycling paper, cardboard, cans, plastic bottles, and other recyclable materials.
* Use products made from recycled material whenever possible. Support recycling efforts by purchasing products made from recycled materials.
* Use rechargeable batteries. Using rechargeable batteries not only helps to reduce waste, but it also helps keep the toxic metals found in some batteries out of landfills.
* Donate or recycle your old computer. Computers contain many materials that are considered toxic and should not be disposed of in a landfill. Rather than throwing out that old computer, see if any local charities, schools, or senior citizen centers can use the computer system. Or, contact the manufacturer of your old computer (or the new one you just purchased) to see if they have a recycling program for older computers.
Over the past few years many people have become more sensitive to the issue of recycling. Thanks to public information campaigns, a community conscience is solidifying; each day it's getting easier to find people who willingly practice simple domestic habits for curtailing environmental pollution and the waste of recyclable materials.
Plastic Plastic is not a natural product, therefore it is not biodegradable. It can survive for millions of years but not withstanding this, it is used mostly for disposable objects and packaging. Consequently we have dumps where plastic continues to accumulate with no end in sight, incinerators which release highly toxic substances into the air, and landfills where poisonous substances like heavy metals containate the soil.
Recycling: various types of plastic have varying degrees of toxicity and recyclability. Most plastics are the product of different polymeric aggregates whose identifying initials can be found on the products themselves: P.V.C. (polyvinyl chloride), P.E. (polyethylene), P.P. (polypropylene), P.E.T. (polyethylene terephthalate), P.S. (polystyrene). Though these polymers pollute to differing degrees, they are all reusable once they are ground and reworked. Another way to recycle is through energetic recovery: high temperature fuels can be derived from plastic.
Useful advice: choose glass containers for food and drinks, better yet returnable ones; where possible reduce the use of disposable plastic products; for shopping use natural fiber bags, like jute or cotton; choose products with the least packaging material possible; dispose of used plastic liquid containers in the appropriate recycling bins.
Recycling: paper, which is made from various types of trees, can be re-used to produce recycled paper with the same properties as that which was first produced. In addition to saving trees from being cut down, this also saves about two thirds of the energy needed during the fabrication process. Dirty or greasy paper cannot be recycled, nor can paper combined with other materials (carbon paper, aluminium backed paper, sand paper, plastified paper, etc.).
Useful advice: more important even that recycling paper is saving paper, which solves many problems before they happen. Don't throw away a piece of paper if it's not been used on both sides; always make photocopies on the front and back; use recycled paper as much as possible; choose products with the least paper packaging possible; don't have purchases wrapped if they are already packaged; separate discarded paper from the rest of the garbage.
Glass production requires the use of raw materials and a very high consumption of energy in the form of petrol which is needed to fuel the ovens. Recycling a ton of used glass can save up to 136 liters of petrol! The used glass is collected, washed, crushed, separated by colour and sent to the foundries where it is fused and re-utilized to make new containers thus reducing the extraction of raw material, the mass of discarded glass to be disposed of, and the consumption of fossil fuels during fusion. Even better is to choose returnable glass containers: in fact, all bottles can be sterilized and reused up to fifty times.
Useful advice: return returnable bottles to the store; switch from disposable plastic (bottles, plates, forks, spoons) to re-usable and long-lasting products; dispose of used glass in the appropriate recycling bins.