I have friends that still don't recycle -- in 2011. It's mind boggling, really, especially because it's one of the simplest things we can do that has such a profound impact on the environment. And in some cities and municipalities, like where I live, recycling is picked up curbside, so it's as easy as throwing out the trash.
My friends are good people, though; they're not on a mission to take down Mother Nature, I assure you. So I can only imagine that there are plenty of others like them that, for one reason or another, just don't make the effort. But why not? I've heard every excuse, and frankly, none of them are good.
I see recycling as a way of life -- second nature. But for people who need more convincing, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists plenty of reasons why it's so important. For one, recycling reduces our need for so many landfills and incinerators. It also saves energy, conserves natural resources and prevents the pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials. But most importantly, recycling also decreases greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change, and can help protect and expand U.S. manufacturing jobs and increase U.S. competitiveness.
But if you need more incentive, how about the fact that it can take up to 500 years for one aluminum can to decompose -- yes, that's 500 years! And the EPA estimates that less than half (48 percent) of the 3.41 million tons of aluminum cans Americans tossed in 2008 were recovered and recycled instead of hitting the landfills. That means about 1.77 tons of aluminum cans from 2008 alone sit in landfills across the country. Considering that same aluminum could have been recycled, and in as little as 60 days been back on the store shelves as new cans, doesn't recycling seem like the obvious choice?
Some people may never get it, but the good news is there does appear to be a shift. The EPA's latest facts and figures released on municipal solid waste -- basically how much trash we throw away -- show that as a nation, we recycled less than 10 percent of our trash in 1980 but more than 33 percent in 2008. And even though the amount of trash we threw away increased from 3.66 pounds per person per day in 1980 to 4.50 pounds in 2008, we still managed to reduce the amount we sent to the landfills.
I'm positive I don't produce 4.5 pounds of trash per day, but I'm sure a lot of people I know do. Maybe if we did a weekly trash weigh in that would make a difference.
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There are many good reasons to recycle, both environmental and economic. Some of these are:
- Garbage: At its peak, the U.S. dumped more than 150 million tons (136 million metric tons) of trash in landfills yearly, according to Eleanor Hall in her book "Garbage." Today, we recycle about 32 percent of our trash.
- Pollution: Landfills create a toxic soup known as leachate. Modern landfills are able to contain most of it, but even a little can contaminate groundwater.
- Resources: Making products without recycled materials depletes our natural resources.
- Money: Many cities can save money by recycling instead of paying to use a landfill. Some companies make all of their income off of recycling. The recycling industry also can generate thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue.
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