Recycling is extremely beneficial to the environment, resulting in reduced pollution, cleaner air and water and the conservation of energy and natural resources.
Recycling drastically reduces pollution by decreasing the need to build landfills and incinerators. Many products that are dumped in landfills are not biodegradable or take decades to decompose, releasing harmful gases into the air as they slowly break down. Along with landfills, incinerators are major sources of methane gas emissions. Greenhouse gases, like methane, trap heat in the earth’s atmosphere, contributing to climate change. A national recycling rate of just 30 percent reduces greenhouse gas emissions as much as removing nearly 25 million cars from the road for an entire year.
In addition to the release of methane gas, waste releases other assorted chemicals when it decomposes, and these chemicals blend into a toxic liquid called leachate. Leachate can drain out of landfills and pollute water supplies and the surrounding soil.
Materials disposed of in landfills have to be replaced by new products manufactured from raw materials. Extracting, transporting and processing these materials requires the combustion of fossil fuels, such as gasoline, diesel and coal—non-renewable and rapidly depleting natural resources which are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Manufacturing products from recycled materials saves a significant amount of energy. It takes 95 percent less energy to produce aluminum from recycled aluminum, 60 percent less energy to make recycled steel, 40 percent less energy to make both newspaper and glass from recycled materials and 70 percent less energy to create recycled plastics. Using recycled materials to manufacture new products also prevents pollutants like ammonia, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxides from entering the air and water.
Recycling decreases the consumption of vital natural resources. Americans recycled 42 million tons of newsprint, office paper and paperboard in 2005, saving 714 million trees and 292,026 million gallons of water. Many times, recycling even creates better products than those made of raw materials. The tin in tin cans, for example, is more refined after being processed for recycling—and thus more valuable.
Recycling is not only beneficial to the environment; it helps the economy as well. The recycling and reuse industry consists of approximately 56,000 establishments that employ more than 1.1 million people. Recycling waste, rather than letting it end up in landfills, helps to create jobs and add to the U.S. economy. Recycling also benefits local economies. Many cities have to pay by the ton to use a landfill, and recycling waste can save municipal governments—and thus taxpayers—millions of dollars. Recycling can generate three times the revenue per ton as landfill disposal and create almost six times as many jobs.
Recycling diverts waste from landfills and helps to conserve natural resources, leading to cleaner land, air and water, and thus better health for everyone.