Facts on Recycling

All the important facts on recycling in one article

With the rise of industrialization and large-scale production in the past few centuries, people around the world are consuming more than ever before. As a result, world-wide waste is also at an all-time high, posing unprecedented risks to the health of the planet, its ecosystems, and the lives of future generations. From pollution to climate change, to deforestation and the depletion of resources, the future depends on the actions we take now to fix the environmental problems facing the world and its future.

We’ve all heard the mantra: reduce, reuse, recycle. Undoubtedly, it presents an easily memorable, practical solution for environmentally-conscious individuals to think about and use in their daily lives. In this article, we hope to present a variety of facts surrounding recycling with the intention of providing accurate educational information and creating motivation for our readers to recycle more.

To start, we’ve included some facts about General Waste Production in the United States.

  1. Americans throw away more than 200 million tons of trash per year. To put this in perspective, that’s enough to wrap around the earth 24 times.
  2. On average, each person creates more than 4 pounds of trash per day, equalling about 1.5 tons of solid waste per year.
  3. Although 75% of waste generated by Americans has the potential to be recycled, only about 30% of it is.
  4. About 75% of waste in the US ends up in a landfill or is incinerated.
  5. If Americans recycled 75% of their trash, the positive environmental effect would be the same as if 50 million fewer cars were driven per year.

From these statistics, it’s clear that Americans generate quite an enormous amount of trash without adequate regard to where it ends up. As an alternative, the practice of recycling cuts down on the need for raw materials that contribute to growing environmental problems like pollution and climate change.

Now, we’re going to break it down into five specific types of materials that are commonly recycled by the average consumer: plastic, aluminum, glass, food, paper, and a bonus: styrofoam. So when you go make the decision between throwing away or recycling a particular item, you can be more conscious of the material itself and where it’s going. Finally, we will provide a few brief facts on the positive benefits of recycling on the overall US economy.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Facts on Recycling Plastic

  1. 35 billion plastic water bottles are thrown away by Americans annually, which is enough to wrap around the planet 4 times.
  2. Americans throw away 2,500,000 plastic bottles each hour.
  3. Plastic kills more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals each year.
  4. More than half of the plastic we consume only gets used once before being thrown away.
  5. It can take over 500 years for plastic to decompose in our landfills.

While recycling plastic is a better option for the environment than throwing it away, as a material, it is less efficient for recycling than some other materials like aluminum. So, here’s our tip on how to best reduce plastic waste:

The best way to reduce plastic waste is to use the reuse and reduce methods. For example, instead of using plastic water bottles, think about investing in a reusable water bottle. For the financial cost of just a few plastic water bottles that you might use in one day, you could instead purchase a reusable water bottle that would last you years for the same price, lessening the impact on both the environment and your wallet.

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Facts on Recycling Aluminum

  1. More than 80,000,000,000 aluminum cans are used by Americans each year, most of which end up in landfills.
  2. Aluminum is a material that can be recycled over and over again without end. In fact, when recycled aluminum is used to make new cans, 95-97% of the energy is preserved compared to making completely new aluminum.
  3. According to the Container Recycling Institute (CRI), the total amount of aluminum cans that ended up in landfills last year (about 35 billion cans) could have been worth $600 million had they been recycled by consumers.

Our tip on recycling aluminum: Many local grocery stores have options for recycling aluminum cans. When you make your weekly trip to the grocery store, we recommend making a habit of bringing your cans with you. When you’re buying new cans at the store, try to look for ones that use recycled material.

Facts on Recycling Glass

  1. 28 billion glass bottles and jars are thrown away by Americans per year.
  2. Glass is another material that can be recycled endlessly, in part due to glass’s lower melting temperature. For bottles and jars, 100% of the material is capable of being recycled without any loss in purity or quality. However, other glass materials, like windows or ovenware, which are created through a different process, are not as easily recycled.
  3. For every six tons of glass recycled, one less ton of carbon dioxide is produced.

Our tip on recycling glass: Similar to recycling aluminum, we recommend making a habit of bringing your glass waste with you to the grocery store, especially because of the high recycling efficiency and the small profit you’ll get back.

Facts on Recycling Food

  1. The U.S. creates about 21.5 million tons of food waste per year.
  2. If Americans composted the amount of food they throw away, the greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced by an amount equal to removing 2 million cars from the road.
  3. Most whole foods are easily recyclable, and good for your garden! For a comprehensive guide to composting, we recommend Planet Natural Research Center. To get you started, click on this link.

Facts on Recycling Paper

  1. Of all the waste created worldwide, paper and cardboard are the most common.
  2. All of the recycled paper that is used annually helps to save 7,000 gallons of water and 900,000,000 trees.
  3. Paper can be recycled about 5 to 7 times, with about 79% efficiency.
  4. Over 87% of Americans have access to paper recycling programs.

Facts on Recycling Styrofoam

  1. Around 25 billion styrofoam cups are thrown away each year.
  2. Styrofoam is one of the worst commonly consumed materials for the environment, taking anywhere from 500 to 1 million years to break down in landfills.
  3. Styrofoam easily absorbs pollutants like DDT and oil, which are then consumed by plankton and other microorganisms, which make up the base of oceanic food chains.

We’ve included Styrofoam because we think that it’s an important material to consider when making consumption choices. But in fact, styrofoam is not recyclable! Our recommendation: not purchasing products containing styrofoam in the first place. If this is a topic you are interested in knowing more about, consider checking out the “No More Styrofoam Project,” by clicking this link. 

Now that we’ve seen a variety of facts about different kinds of recyclable and non-recyclable materials, here are just a few facts about how recycling, in general, can be beneficial for the economy

Facts on Recycling and the Economy

1. According to the 2016 Recycling Economic Information Report, “recycling and the reuse of materials creates jobs, while also generating local and state tax revenues. In 2007, recycling and the reuse of activities in the United States accounted for:

-757,000 jobs

-436.6 billion in wages; and

-$6.6 billion in tax revenues.

This equates to 1.57 jobs for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.”

Additionally,

2. Recycling creates $200 billion annually in the US.

3. If the US were to recycle 75% of its waste, 1,500,000 new jobs could be created.

As we have seen from the facts in this article, from preserving the health of the environment to saving money in your wallet, to supporting the overall economy, recycling presents a good option for the average person. We hope this article gave you some new information on recycling and, importantly, some motivation to find ways to recycle in your own daily life.