There’s a puzzling trend gaining popularity in current sustainability circles. Questions are being raised as to the true efficacy of recycling. These discussions usually revolve around issues concerning plastics: Only 9% of the world’s plastics have been successfully recycled, and it takes 400 years for plastics to break down.
Waste management is a complex multi-step process. There should be more emphasis placed on preventative measures before recycling is needed such as scaling back on consumption and reusing municipal waste. However, recycling is critical for managing the waste that is already in circulation. Keep reading to find out 10 reasons why recycling should be mandatory.
Why Is Recycling Becoming an Issue?
It seems recycling hasn’t been yielding desired outcomes in recent decades. With the 2021 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declaring “code red for humanity,” there is an urgency to find the most efficient solutions to climate change.
Many are doubtful about recycling’s capacity to significantly curb harmful environmental conditions for several reasons:
- Single-stream systems: waste is collected in one undifferentiated container
- Lack of consumer awareness
- Higher contamination rates
Oftentimes, due to lack of consumer awareness, recyclables get mixed up with contaminating materials. In fact, in the U.S., it’s estimated that one-fourth of all recyclables have been polluted.
Much of this contaminated heap is then exported to countries that don’t have the wherewithal to properly process the trash. Sorting and cleaning salvageable waste is often too costly so companies have resorted to dumping the vast majority of waste in landfills or incinerators.
Though pollution control is of utmost importance, recycling isn’t being sufficiently invested in at the governmental level. Also, there aren’t many economic incentives encouraging producers and manufacturers to devote their resources towards the recycling process. But what if there were stricter laws in place?
Reasons Why Recycling Should Be Mandatory
Below are 10 reasons why recycling should be mandatory.
Too Many Landfills
Landfills: the eyesores of every modern consumerist culture. They require huge amounts of real estate. Destroying wildlife habitat, pits are dug out of the earth and, when full, they are buried.
The underground trash seeps toxins, greenhouse gases like methane, and noxious leachates (liquid from rainwater that leaches out harmful chemicals when draining through wastes) into the surrounding soil. With over 2,000 open landfills in the U.S. today, implementing firm recycling policies could drastically reduce that number.
Recycling Helps Protect Vulnerable Communities
Landfills pose a huge problem for surrounding communities, especially those that are under economic duress. Water and air pollution in proximity to landfills are too common. Households depend on clean well water but fear harmful substances leaking into their water supply. Burning trash that is so often contaminated compromises breathable air.
Extractive industries like mining, quarrying, and logging threaten the cleanliness of local streams and deplete natural resources available to these communities. For example, as one of The Human Rights Watch articles describes, Bauxite mining in Guinea is putting a strain on the water resources of the native population.
In addition to dust inundating homes and fields, “women, who are primarily responsible for fetching water, are forced to walk longer distances or wait for long periods to obtain water from alternative sources.” Recycling reduces the need for more resources like bauxite and, if practiced over the long term, could eliminate the presence of these invasive companies.
Energy Efficiency Is Critical in a Warming World
It is much more labor-intensive to manufacture and produce new products. Up to 30% less energy is used when companies take advantage of already refined and available recycled materials. Plus, it gives the environment a break. The more we can reintegrate into manufacturing, the less demand for raw materials.
To illustrate this point, take a look at this surprising statistic about aluminum can production in the United States. Less than half of the 100 billion cans sold each year are recycled. However, “with the amount of energy it takes to make one virgin aluminum can, 20 recycled cans can be manufactured.”
Aluminum’s properties retain their original quality over time which makes it the perfect recycling material. Just think of all the space we could save from landfill use if recycling aluminum was required!
Recycling Creates a Spirit of Community
Working together to mitigate the effects of climate change will become more and more of a pressing concern as we enter a changing era.
Recycling and other sustainable practices foster an atmosphere of communalism, creativity, shift awareness to individual responsibility, and emphasize the role all can play in caring for others and the environment. Healthier neighborhoods mean improved quality of life for everyone.
Consider Germany. A heartening success story, the country has historically backed 3 main recycling initiatives:
- The 1991 Packing Ordinance
- The 1996 Closed Substance and Waste Management Act
- The Green Dot
As opposed to the United States’ inefficient single-stream system, Germany has 6 color-coded bins for municipal waste disposal. Governmental support and community cooperation have been directly responsible for the nation’s impressive track record as the world recycling champion.
It Supports the Advancement of Green Technologies
If recycling were mandatory, more funds and subsidies could be allocated to the green technologies associated with its processes. There are so many cool and ingenious ideas out there! Do you remember the concerns about plastics mentioned earlier in this article?
One company called Recycling Technologies based in the United Kingdom is exploring a possible solution. Their machine – the behemoth RT7000 – uses thermal cracking to reduce plastics to a liquid hydrocarbon feedstock. Check out their team’s write-up to learn more: https://www.bpf.co.uk/plastipedia/chemical-recycling-101.aspx
Exxon Mobil and a host of other oil companies have invested millions of dollars in what is termed CCUS (Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage). Of the many efforts to reduce carbon emissions in circulation today, CCUS is rising in popularity.
These name just a few of the incredible green-tech innovations attracting the attention of investors and the scientific community alike.
Wildlife Biodiversity Is Under Threat
Climate change threatens the delicate balance of ecological systems like rivers where fish depend on conducive levels of dissolved oxygen in the water. Also, the EPA estimates that plastics kill over 100,000 sea creatures each year.
Landfill usage, drilling operations, deforestation, and other resource extraction methods exacerbate greenhouse gas emissions while also destroying habitats. Again, large scale recycling efforts could significantly reduce the need for these exploitative practices.
Groundwater Quality is Too Precious to Risk
Leachates from landfills are notoriously hard to manage. They are chock full of hazardous components such as:
- Toxic heavy metals
- High concentrations of ammonia
If even small amounts of these substances leaked into a nearby water source, it would put all organisms in the area at risk.
What’s even more ominous is the possibility of these poisonous compounds making their way into the groundwater. Wells that draw supply from the groundwater source will become undrinkable and this directly impacts the communities that use them.
It Lowers the Demand for Raw Materials
Repurposing used materials mitigates the crisis of overabundant solid waste. Recovered materials satisfy the demand for virgin materials and this means less drilling, mining, and deforestation. Paper, plastic, glass, and other resources that have already gone through manufacturing processes require much less energy to compact and reuse in new products.
New Recycling Methods Mean More Well-Paying Jobs
There are companies that depend solely on the recycling process for revenue. That also includes buying used goods and reselling them. As opposed to the steep expenses of paying for landfill usage, recycling is three times as profitable. According to some studies, it creates up to 6 times as many jobs!
Recycling Works Towards a More Sustainable Future
As recycling practices are normalized, they will become second nature. This should put pressure on government leaders to enact policies that will ensure communities are responsible for their waste.
Germany, Austria, and Wales are in the top 15 countries that have experienced success year after year since the establishment of their recycling mandates. They prove that more ecologically aware leadership goes a long way in setting the example.
Even though modern-day recycling efforts are not without caveats, the philosophy behind the practice still does a lot to promote ecological awareness. Recycling is the first thing most people think of when they think about sustainability or how they’ll celebrate Earth Day.
In parts of the world where recycling is mandatory, the national community is sensitized to the necessity of living more in harmony with the planet. Reducing waste generation and reusing materials is equally important in these places.
It only makes sense to vouch for required recycling policies here in the United States too.