Yes, recycling is a really good option to help the planet. But no, it is not really helping the planet much in the current scenario as we are not doing it right. A common mistake we make is that we consider recycling as the first option. But what we should actually be doing is to consider reducing (refusing) and reusing before recycling.
There’s a reason why recycle comes last in the 3Rs. It’s time we need to understand and act on it. Secondly, we are overconsuming, recycling non-recyclable items, and also wishcycling a lot which again renders the whole concept invalid.
What’s wrong with our recycling habits?
A study conducted at a sampling table proved that we are overconsuming because we believe, we can simply recycle in the end. In this study, researchers first kept a trash can near the table. As a result, more people used the same cup to sample the different flavors on the table. However, when the trash can was replaced with a recycle bin, more people used fresh cups to sample each flavor.
Thus, proving the point that we do not think twice before tossing an item in the recycle bin; more importantly, we are not considerate of the lifespan of any item and when ideally, it should end up in the recycle bin. So, in this article, let’s have a closer look at the pros and cons of recycling along with finding out how it is really helping the planet. We’re sure by the end of this article, you will at the least turn into a better recycler.
Related Article: What Happens To Trash After It Leaves The Trash Can?
Benefits of recycling (when done right!)
If we recycle correctly, we’re reducing the amount of waste that ends up in landfills or in the oceans. As a result, you’ll save money on disposal fees, which is good for your wallet and good for the environment. It’s a win-win situation! Here’s a list of benefits of recycling when it’s done the right way.
- First and foremost, by recycling more, we can definitely reduce the amount of waste ending up in landfills and incinerators.
- It helps to conserve natural resources and raw materials. When we recycle items like paper, wood, metal, and glass, it reduces the amount of new or primary resources we will be using.
- When we recycle stuff we save energy. Production of recycled aluminum products takes 95% less energy than fresh or new aluminum products. While for steel, it is approximately 70%, and for paper, 40%.
- It also saves money as recycling is comparatively cheaper than waste collection and disposal.
- Moreover, recycling programs and facilities present people with employment which is again a big advantage as certain jobs like separating textiles or waste needs manual labor.
After looking at all these benefits of recycling, we usually end up with the question, how can recycling not help the planet? After all, it saves raw materials, reduces carbon emissions, and stops waste from going to the landfill. Unfortunately, there are downsides to recycling too. Let’s have a look at those.
Problem with recycling
While we try our best to recycle the right way, there are still a few problems with the industry that can not be fixed. This, as a result, leads to recycling solutions not being the best idea for the planet. Here’s a list of a few such problems or, in other words, cons of recycling.
- The numbers say it all; according to the EPA, out of the total waste generated in the US, almost 75% is recyclable, but only around 30% of it is really recycled. This is a huge problem.
- The recycling solutions are an open loop for certain items, mainly plastics. Once it is downcycled into another product, in most cases, it can not be recycled again and ends up in the trash.
- There’s a lot of wishcycling happening. Most people are unaware of how to dispose of common household items correctly, which leads to recyclables and non-recyclables ending up in the wrong bins.
- Not many people know that our recycling needs to be clean and empty before we toss it in the bin. Otherwise, it ends up contaminating the whole pile, which is then discarded.
Related Article: Recycling 101: Here Is What, How, And What Not To Do When Recycling
- Many facilities are powered using fossil fuels such as coal, petroleum, and gasoline. This leads to more pollution.
- Aluminum and glass recycling isn’t really perfect as not all the facilities are rightly equipped to handle these materials. Transporting glass is expensive because it is heavy and delicate. It is mostly crushed to make construction material which is not a good idea. Similarly, aluminum recycling can release toxins in the air and has a toxic waste product called dross.
Is recycling really good for the planet?
With so many problems with the recycling industry, it is difficult to determine whether or not it is really good for the planet. However, that being said, it does help in reducing the waste ending up in oceans and landfills to a great extent. And if done right, recycling can make a huge difference by helping us with the waste problem.
However, at an individual level, it is important to consider various factors before tossing anything in the recycle bin. You can start with these questions –
- Do I really need to throw this item away?
- Can I reuse it?
- Can I repurpose it into something useful?
- Is it recyclable?
- Am I recycling it the right way?
To truly help the environment, we need to change our wasteful habits and focus on making conscious choices. However, recycling will always play a role in a circular economy and can only be a positive action that we take as responsible individuals in regard to our planet. So even if recycling still has its flaws, it is at least better than not doing anything at all.