How has recycling helped reduce landfill use?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. One of the most obvious reasons that we recycle is because of all of the garbage we dump in landfills. Americans' use of landfills peaked in the 1980s when we threw nearly 150 million tons (136 million metric tons) of trash each year into landfills. According to Eleanor Hall in the book "Garbage," even today, we throw away more than 100 million tons (91 million metric tons) of garbage every year. That means that in many places, landfill space is scarce, and in other places landfills are not an ideal solution to garbage disposal.

    In the U.S., recycling efforts can divert more than 60 million tons (54 million metric tons) of waste away from landfills yearly. That amounts to about 32 percent of all of our garbage [source: EPA]. And better still if, alongside recycling, we can buy recycled products whenever possible, further helping choke off the flow of items into a landfill. There are some 4,500 recycled-content products out there for purchase, in categories as diverse as carpeting, motor oil, paper towels, egg cartons, trash bags and aluminum cans. Recycled content is material made from things that were either going to be tossed, were rebuilt from used products or were gathered during the course of industrial activity [source: EPA].

    And the recycling efforts can't come fast enough. After all, landfill trash stays around for a very long time. That's because landfills are designed to bury trash, not break it down. They are airtight, so oxygen and moisture do not break down the trash the same way they would in a dump. Because trash is protected from decomposing, landfills have been known to keep newspapers intact and easily readable up to 40 years later. When a landfill closes, the site and its groundwater must be monitored for up to 30 years!

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