Understanding Pollution: How Recycling Works

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Many people talk about pollution, but few talk about the things that the average person can do to combat pollution.  Why?  Because pollution is a worldwide issue, and like most big important issues people like to talk about ideals, and goals, but no one wants to get down to brass tacks.  Well, today there is something that you can do to help combat pollution: recycle.  To understand recycling you first have to understand what recycling is.  Then you need to know what can be recycled, and the benefits of recycling. You’ve heard about it since elementary school.  Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  Three simple words that can change the world.

Recycle 1

Recycling is a very simple concept.  “To make something new from something that has been used before.”[i]  There are three steps in the process of recycling.  First, you have to collect the products to be recycled.  If you are lucky enough to live in a place where they offer curbside pickup, then congratulations!  The hard part is done for you.  If you do not have access to curbside pickup, do not fear.  There are recycling drop off centers all over.  There are even places that will pay you for your recyclable goods.  Once the goods are collected they are then moved to a recovery facility where they are sorted and prepared for use in new products.[ii]  This is where step two begins.  The recovered recyclable goods are then sold to manufacturers around the world.[iii]  In 2011, 60% of the recyclable waste created in the United States was exported to other countries to the tune of $39.2 Billion.[iv]  This leads us into step three.  Once the waste is recycled and manufactured into new goods those goods are then sold to the public.[v]  So, the hardest part of recycling for the average person is simply dividing what can be recycled from what can’t be recycled, and then getting it to either a drop off center, or out to your curb.

Recycle 2

The next question that is probably on your mind is “What can be recycled?”  Well, that is a long list.  You can recycle things from metal, to electronics, cardboard and paper to glass.  As technology has advanced more and more of what used to be sent straight to the landfill can now be recycled.  Most metal can be recycled.  The people of the United States throw away 2.7 million tons of aluminum a year, and only half of that is recycled.[vi] The main rule when turning in metal for recycling is to ensure that there is no food on the metal as this can affect the recycling process.  Glass is also something that can by and large usually be recycled.  In the U.S. in 2012 over 11.6 million tons of glass were thrown away, but only 28% of it went towards recycling.[vii]  Luckily, paper is one of the things that most Americans do recycle.  Over 65% of all paper waste in the United States was recycled in 2012.[viii]  Could more be done?  Absolutely, but it’s much better than nothing.  The problem that many people have with recycling lies in the fact that different facilities have different capabilities.  Certain facilities have the capabilities to recycle all types of metals, while other facilities do not.  This is where a bit of personal responsibility needs to be assumed.  It takes only a few minutes to call your recycling center, or curbside pickup, and find out exactly what their facilities have the capability to recycle.  For recycling to work it needs to be done on a large scale with groups.  If the facilities near you are not up to snuff, then just provide those facilities with what they can handle.  You’re still making a difference. Even such a seemingly minor duty as sorting waste and depositing it in the corresponding container is a step toward a cleaner and healthier planet.

Recycle 3

There are as many benefits to recycling as there are items that can be recycled.  For one, recycling steel and tin cans requires only 74% of the energy needed to produce those items from scratch.[ix] Recycling also helps to combat the rise of global warming because of the energy that is saved by using recycled materials in manufacturing.[x]  Recycling also limits the amount of waste that finds its way into landfills, and helps prevent the spread of pollution because new materials do not need to be mined to fuel manufacturing.[xi]  I don’t know about you but landfills are really not something that I want to see every day for the rest of my life.  Visually, they are an eyesore, and that statement doesn’t even begin to touch on the health effects that living near a poorly maintained landfill can cause.  These include cancer, birth defects, and genetic mutations.[xii]  A final benefit to recycling, and one that I have taken advantage of, is that you can make money off of recycling.  As mentioned earlier, there are facilities that will pay you to take your recycling, and I’m not ashamed to say I’ve been to them.  Save up all your empty soda cans for a few months, and you’ll get at least a few hundred bucks.

Recycle 4

Recycling is not going to be the be-all end-all solution to pollution in the world, but it is a place to start.  Everyone’s time is valuable in this day and age, but how much time does it take to sort through your garbage?  Or to set up a system where you have a can for recycling and one for trash?  Not much time is needed, and by taking that time you are helping to save the world that we all call home.  Your actions are helping to delay that future date when we will live in a wasteland.  There have been countless movies and books written about man’s quest for progress and the destruction that is visited upon Earth because of it.  We can’t claim ignorance here.  We may not know exactly when we will reach the point of doing irreparable harm to the planet, but we know it is coming.  Can you truly sit back and do nothing?


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About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Recycle.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/recycle&gt;.

[ii] “EPA.” Recycling Basics. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/recycling-basics&gt;.

[iii] “EPA.” Recycling Basics. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/recycling-basics&gt;.

[iv] “5 Things That Will Blow Your Mind about the Recycling Industry.” New York Post 5 Things That Will Blow Your Mind about the Recyclingindustry Comments. New York Post, 9 Nov. 2013. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://nypost.com/2013/11/09/5-things-that-will-blow-your-mind-about-the-recycling-industry/&gt;.

[v] “EPA.” Recycling Basics. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/recycling-basics&gt;.

[vi] “Select an Area.” What Can I Recycle. Waste Management. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp&gt;.

[vii] “Glass, Common Wastes & Materials.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/glass.htm&gt;.

[viii] “Paper Recycling.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 15 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/materials/paper/&gt;.

[ix] “Select an Area.” What Can I Recycle. Waste Management. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp&gt;.

[x] “Why Is Recycling Important?” Benefits of Recycling. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.benefits-of-recycling.com/whyisrecyclingimportant/&gt;.

[xi] “EPA.” Recycling Basics. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www2.epa.gov/recycle/recycling-basics&gt;.

[xii] “Landfills, Environmental Hazards – Propex.com.” Landfills, Environmental Hazards – Propex.com. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.propex.com/C_f_env_landfills.htm&gt;.

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