With so many misconceptions about recycling swirling around, a little knowledge can go a long way towards helping you make wise decisions about how to dispose of your trash. If you didn’t know the truth behind all these myths it would be easy to think that recycling wasn’t worth our time, effort, or money but that could not be farther from the truth. While it certainly isn’t a perfect solution to dealing with our trash problem, recycling is an important part of our long-term sustainability strategy. Simply put, the pros of recycling outweigh the cons in almost all situations.
Take a closer look at some of these myths!
Infographic provided by Perfect Rubber Mulch
- Recycling is more expensive than disposal. While there are some costs associated with recycling, properly designed recycling programs can be cost competitive with disposal programs. And the best thing is that the more that people recycle, the more cost effective it gets! According to the EPA, disposing of trash costs around $75-200 per ton while a comparable curbside recycling program costs around $50-150 per ton! While recycling facilities and programs are expensive to get up and running, the long term costs are not necessarily higher than the costs associated with traditional disposal methods.
- Making products from recycled materials is too expensive. The cost to make a product, from either raw or recycled materials, is determined by economic factors that are constantly in flux. While some things made from recycled products may be more expensive, others are comparably priced or even cheaper. And that’s just in pure dollars and cents! Once you take into account the environmental benefits of making things out of pre-harvested materials, those recycled products don’t seem so expensive at all!
- Recycling uses more energy than it saves. While processing recycled materials certainly requires some energy, it is not true that it uses more energy than it saves. On average, making products from recycled materials requires approximately 50% less energy than making products from raw materials, and for some products the energy savings are far higher. Turning old aluminum cans into new aluminum products uses 95% less energy than making aluminum from fresh materials! Don’t forget that while there is quite a bit of energy associated with the recycling process there is also a lot of energy needed to pull raw materials from the ground!
- Biodegradable plastic doesn’t need to be recycled. It is a common misconception that it is ok to send biodegradable plastic to the landfill. When biodegradable plastic breaks down in a landfill it releases large amounts of harmful methane gas. In some landfills this methane gets soaked up through expensive methane capture systems but in many cases it goes straight into the atmosphere where it is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide! The best way to dispose of biodegradable plastic is by sending it to a commercial composting or recycling facility.
- Recycling doesn’t save natural resources. Recycling drastically reduces the amount of natural resources that must be harvested or mined for raw materials. The more materials we can reuse and recycle, the less resources we need to collect! It is really that simple. As an example, the 42 million tons of paper that Americans recycled in 2005 saved 714 million trees and 292,026 gallons of water!
- We already recycle as much as we can. Over the last few decades we have made great strides in increasing the amount of products that are recycled but we can still do a lot more. There is room for improvement both in terms of increasing recycling rates for traditional materials and developing new ways to recycle products that haven’t been recycled before. To put it into perspective, Americans on average recycle around 28% of their household waste but in some communities that number is as high as 50%! Just think of the impact that getting the nationwide average that high could have!
- My trash will decompose anyway. Many people believe that throwing all of their trash away is ok because it will all break down eventually. While it is technically true that most materials will break down over time, this is not a solution to our trash problem. Scientists estimate that it will take approximately a thousand years for plastic to decompose and glass could take even longer. There is also the problem of chemicals being leeched into the soil when this decomposition process occurs. Recycling is a far better solution!
- Recycling trucks waste energy. Sure, recycling trucks use some energy but all that trash would have to be picked up some way and the reduction in carbon emissions due to recycling far outweighs any increase in emissions from all those trucks. To put it all in perspective, the EPA estimates that recycling efforts in 2006 alone caused a reduction of 49.7 million metric tons of carbon emissions. In real world terms, that is the equivalent of 39.4 million passenger vehicles being removed from the road!
- People don’t want to buy recycled products. This just simply isn’t true! Markets exist for all of the commonly collected recycled materials and the demand is ever increasing. People are motivated by both their conscience and economics to purchase goods made from recycled products! Over $5 billion worth of products made from recycled materials are sold each year!
- Burning waste in an incinerator is better than recycling. Unfortunately energy isn’t the only thing that is produced when trash is burned in an incinerator. Don’t be fooled into thinking that burning is a green way of getting energy out of all that trash. Incinerators emit more carbon dioxide into the environment than even the much-maligned coal-fired power plant. Incinerators are also expensive to operate costing more than other waste disposal and energy production facilities.
Remember that while recycling is generally better than not recycling, it isn’t the only way to reduce your ecological footprint.
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