Recycling is crucial to the future health of our planet and the conservation of natural resources, as neither is infinite.
Recycling has many benefits, characterized by the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, social, and economical.
The following sections will delve into some benefits of recycling in more detail.
The Top 15 Benefits of Recycling:
1. Protection of Ecosystems and Wildlife
When the demand for resources decreases, that means that less of the world’s natural areas are disturbed for resource extraction.
The reduction of disturbances and pollution associated with extractive activities will decrease the degradation of natural ecosystems, wildlife habitats, and the natural environment.
For example, recycling paper helps to preserve biodiversity and forests as the demand for raw materials is less, and recycling plastic prevents plastic waste from ending up in waterways (e.g. the ocean).
2. Conservation of Natural Resources
Preserving natural resources is a primary concern as most of the world’s resources are non-renewable, which means they are limited because they do not regenerate.
Recycling materials saves energy and raw materials, which leads to the conservation of natural resources and prevents exceeding resources supply.
3. Reduces Waste Sent to Landfills & Incinerators
When waste is properly sorted and recycled, it diverts unnecessary materials and prevents them from ending up in landfills and being taken to incinerators.
Instead, materials such as aluminum, glass, and plastics can be taken to a repurposing facility and used to create new products or materials.
Preventing waste before it is generated can further reduce the need for disposal and save more of the world’s natural resources.
4. Prevents Pollution
Reusing materials instead of extracting and creating new ones saves energy and prevents toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases. Landfills release methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is stronger than carbon dioxide.
Landfills can also contribute to smog and air pollution and can contaminate water sources through seepage.
5. Conserve Energy
Recycling materials eliminates the need to make new materials from scratch and conserves a significant amount of energy. Processing recycled materials requires far less energy than extracting new raw materials. Less energy is needed to remove, transport, and process raw materials and manufacture products.
New products manufactured from recycled materials use up to 30% less energy on average. Some materials save far more energy when recycled, such as aluminum cans, which save 95% of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from scratch.
6. Reduces Demand for Raw Materials
Recycling keeps products and materials in the supply chain longer. Often products and materials are disposed of because they no longer serve a purpose to the consumer (e.g. glass bottle), not because it is at the end of their lifecycle.
Recycling and reusing materials and products significantly reduce the need to extract raw materials as the supply is maintained.
7. Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Recycling helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions in several different ways. It reduces energy consumption by re-purposing materials instead of extracting and manufacturing new ones. It also prevents the creation of greenhouse gas emissions associated with extracting raw materials.
Social Benefits of Recycling
8. Encourages Social Responsibility
Recycling is everyone’s responsibility. As global citizens, we have an obligation to protect the environment for future generations and to ensure that waste is recycled properly.
The appropriate disposal and sorting of recyclables, such as paper, glass, plastic, and aluminum, can help create a cleaner world and help people become more environmentally conscious.
By instilling morals related to recycling into our own lives, community, and children, we can increase awareness and encourage social responsibility for protecting our planet.
9. Allows for a Clean and Thriving Economy
Recycling reduces the environmental impacts and economic costs associated with waste disposal in landfills and incinerators. As more materials are recycled, and fewer landfills are needed, more land can be put to economic use or protected for future generations.
Recycling prevents greenhouse gases (GHGs), helps support local economies by creating jobs, and allows the growth of a circular economy.
10. Increases Commitment to Eco-friendly Practices
Recycling encourages developing and committing to eco-friendly practices, such as eco-friendly household hacks and green technology (e.g. improved recycling equipment).
As part of the 3 R’s (Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle), recycling is often a first step towards living a more eco-friendly and conscious lifestyle.
Economic Benefits of Recycling
11. Creates Jobs in the Recycling Industries
Recycling is an essential part of our economy. It creates jobs as people are needed at all stages of the cycle, from the moment it is picked up curbside to sorting and processing.
Studies show that for every job in waste management, there are four jobs in recycling. Jobs range from high-quality product manufacturing to materials handling and processing.
Recycling businesses include steel mills, paper manufacturers, glass manufacturers, material reclaimers, converters and recover, collection centers, and recycled material wholesalers.
12. Offers Cash Benefits
Recycling also has cash benefits depending on the items being recycled. In some places, aluminum cans or bottles (e.g. beer cans or liquor bottles) can be returned for a small refund.
Metals (e.g. copper) can be returned to recycling centers for a substantial refund. Always check your local area to see what you can recycle for cash.
13. Cheaper than Waste Collection & Disposal
Waste collection and disposal are often paid for indirectly by taxpayers. The more materials that need to be collected, the higher the cost of disposal and collection will be.
Manufacturing goods from recycled materials is cheaper and requires much less energy. The savings are a feedback loop; as consumers buy less and recycle more, they, in turn, save money on their purchases.
Recycling also saves money in waste handling, landfill production, and incineration costs as waste is diverted to recycling facilities for reuse.
14. Reduces the Need to Create New Landfill Space
Recycling is the practice of sorting waste and diverting unnecessary materials to the proper processing facilities and away from landfills.
As more materials are recycled, and fewer materials are destined for landfill, the number of landfills needed will decrease. That means that more land can be used economically, saving governments money and space.
15. Allows the Circular Economy to Grow
A circular economy is an economic system that seeks to tackle global challenges, such as climate change and waste. In a circular economy, materials are designed to be used, and not used up.
Recycling is a critical component of a circular economy as it is part of the waste hierarchy prioritizing effective and innovative solutions to waste management. Recycling often results in products that are better than those made of virgin materials.
Final Thoughts on the Benefits of Recycling
Communities can see and feel the benefits of recycling, the environment and the economy at different scales (e.g. locally and globally).
The EPA estimated that in 2016 alone, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for approximately 681,000 jobs, $37.8 billion in wages, and $5.5 billion in tax revenues. This translates to 1.17 jobs per 1,000 tonnes of materials recycled.
Recycling conserves natural resources and energy, strengthens the economy through the creation of jobs, and benefits our planet.
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