In recent years, environment and ecological awareness have climbed up the agendas of nations around the world. It is becoming increasingly evident that man’s influence on the planet has reached a critical tipping point where we are beginning to have irreversible effects on the ecosystem, on other species, and even on our own potential for survival.
The list is long in terms of how humans are changing the Earth, but most experts agree drastic change is needed if the planet is to have any chance of recovery. The primary causes of climate change are cited as being our reliance on the burning of fossil fuels, deforestation, over-farming, and our throwaway culture whereby used products are simply added to landfill rather than being recycled. By not recycling, we continue to add to production processes that are having a drastic effect on the Earth – in particular, through sustained greenhouse gas emissions.
Recycling is essential if we are to stand any chance of reversing the damage done to the Earth – especially over the past two centuries during the Early Twentieth Century Warming (ETCW) period.
Saving the earth’s precious resources
While it might not seem it, the Earth’s resources are finite and many are already in short supply. Through recycling, we can prevent the exploitation of our environment and help improve the sustainability of the planet. Multiple materials can be recycled, however, at the most basic level:
- Recycled plastic helps eliminate plastic production – one of the world’s most damaging materials in terms of pollution and manufacture (plastic is mostly made from hydrocarbons).
- Recycled paper and wood save felling our trees and forests. Of course, it’s possible to plant more trees but areas of extreme ecological diversity (e.g. the Amazon rainforest or prehistoric woodlands) could never be replaced and will likely never recover.
- Recycled glass saves harvesting sand supplies around the world – some of which are already running low.
- Recycled metal reduces mining and processing – both of which are expensive and damaging to the environment.
Protecting endangered wildlife and ecosystems
At least one in five species on the planet currently faces extinction – and scientists suggest that, at current rates, the number could rise to a shocking 50% by the end of this century. Meanwhile, the World Wildlife Fund estimates between 0.01% and 0.1% of species go extinct every year – equating to between 200 and 2,000 extinctions per annum.
Recycling reduces our need to exploit the planet’s resources which, in turn, lowers the amount of damage done through mining, felling forests and displacing animals. It also significantly reduces the harmful effects of pollution in the water, soil and air.
Reducing the cost of waste disposal
Recent research suggests it is six times cheaper to dispose of recycled waste than unsorted, general rubbish. Recycling saves money on the costs of waste clearance and also helps reduce the squandering of items that could otherwise be put to better use.
Examples include recycling and repurposing plastics, glass, metals and food (which can alternatively be used for compost to grow more crops). Utilizing cardboard baling, paper and card can easily be recycled to pulp and used again for the production of other paper items while reducing the destruction of our forests and lessening landfill.
Mitigates harmful carbon emissions
Recycling isn’t just good from a reprocessing point of view – it also helps reduce further mining of materials and production. Since recycled goods make multiple uses of a substance, it diminishes the need to produce further items made from the same material e.g. a plastic bottle might find a second use as a plastic phone cover or cardboard could be reused to produce paper.
Reusing items results in less energy being spent to source additional raw materials, resulting in reduced carbon emissions. Furthermore, it also helps lessen the amount of potentially methane-emitting waste stored in landfill.
Recycling has been proven to be more energy efficient
Recycling also helps reduce the costs of further production. Studies have shown that it is considerably cheaper to produce new items from recycled resources than starting fresh with raw materials. For example:
- The production of paper items from pulp is estimated to be 40% more energy-efficient than the process of manufacturing from wood.
- Recycling steel results in a 70% energy saving compared to production from raw materials (typically a combination of iron ore, coke(carbon) and limestone produced in a blast furnace).
- It’s reckoned that reforming new aluminum products from old items (e.g. cans, foil, furniture, etc) could be as much as 95% more energy-efficient than production using the raw metal.
Recycling has created a whole new industry – and, with it, opportunities
It’s proven that recycling creates jobs and the amount of potential new vacancies is yet more evidence why it is a more attractive option than simply discarding waste. The figures speak for themselves and should serve as a wake-up call to leaders around the world of the potential side-benefits of taking a greener, more environmentally-friendly approach.
A recent study produced by Ecocycle.org entitled “More jobs, less pollution”, offered some fascinating insights:
- Globally, recycling could result in the creation of almost 2.3 million jobs by 2030 if the target of the 75% recycle rate could be achieved. In the US alone, it is thought this would amount to around 1.1 million new vacancies.
- As recycling is more labor-intensive than waste disposal through incineration or landfill, it already employs considerably more people than the current waste management industry. Indeed, a study into US recycling revealed the sector now employs 1.25 million workers as compared to 250,000 employed in traditional waste disposal methods.
- Research suggests that recycling, repurposing and reusing products generates 900% more jobs than incinerators and landfill. Through subsequent production and other industries, that figure could be as high as 3,000%.
The current position
During the last century, in particular, recycling has become big business with nations around the world struggling to catch up with carbon emission targets and keen to play their part in supporting the recovery of the planet. However, as you might expect, some countries are further down the line than others when it comes to the recycling revolution and there is room for improvement in most nations around the world.
Current statistics point to Sweden sitting at top of the tree with around 99% recycling of the country’s waste. Switzerland, Austria, and the Netherlands come some way behind, attaining an approximately 50% recycle rate. The US sits around seventh in the world with just 31.5%. However, languishing at the bottom with just 1% recycling – i.e. 99% of its waste going to landfill – is Romania.