Every day we all have waste to dispose of: a wrapper from a food item, an empty box of cereal, a beverage can, papers of all sorts, and so many other items we no longer have use for. What we do with the everyday waste can differ from person to person, household to household, and even within businesses and offices. There are two common ways to get rid of all that trash. Trash can simply be thrown away into a trashcan. Trash can also be separated and then recycled. The implications of each act, throwing trash into a trashcan or recycling trash, can have very different affects on the environment. Although discarding used materials with the trash is simple, recycling should become a daily habit because recycling cuts down on greenhouse gases, saves natural resources, and saves our community’s land and money.
Greenhouse gas is a commonly referenced type of pollution, and is a very popular subject in today’s world. It is well known that vehicles are culprits in contributing to air pollution, but vehicles are not the only contributors to air pollution. Among different contributors to air pollution is trash; however, when trash is recycled it helps to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases produced and released into the environment (US EPA, 2012). Trash in landfills create methane gas while trash that is incinerated creates carbon dioxide, both are greenhouse gases (US EPA, 2007). Recycling limits the amount of trash that ends up in the landfills and incinerators, cutting down on the production of greenhouse gases associated with each form of trash disposal. In 2010, recycling in the United States resulted in a savings in over “186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions” (US EPA, 2011), which is similar to having around “36 million passenger vehicles” emissions eliminated (US EPA, 2011). Recycling takes trash can significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution; it also provides material for making new products.
Everything purchased and used in daily life is a product of some sort. Every product has been created through processes that take a material or materials and make something that can be used. The sources of the materials used to make products can be recyclable materials or raw materials. The act of recycling helps to protect natural resources, which make up the raw materials (US EPA, 2012). Without the availability of recyclable materials, raw materials would be the only means of resource for making products. This in turn, depletes the environment of natural resources. By recycling more trash and throwing out less, the negative impact on natural resources can be curbed, also helping to maintain a sustainable environment (US EPA, 2012a). Recycling can have a major impact on the natural resources and a community’s land and money.
When trash is hauled away from the curbside or a transfer site, it goes to a landfill. Although landfills have standards they must abide by, like location restrictions, requirements for composite liners, post closure maintenance and other regulations (US EPA, 2012b), there still stands the risk of environmental contamination of landfills. Natural disasters and human error can lead to the possibility of waste contamination; landfills are not impenetrable or immune to disaster or mistakes. Recycling limits the amount of trash that ends up in the landfills, reducing the amount of waste contribution to environmental contamination if such unfortunate events were to happen. Even more, the US EPA (2012b) reports that there are household items that may be banned from a community’s landfill due to the fact that the items, such as cleaners, are considered hazardous, and can have a negative impact on the environment if not handled and disposed of properly. It seems very likely that many of possible hazardous items could already be in landfills currently in use and will probably continue to have these items added to landfills, not from neglect so much as from lack of awareness. Since recycling results in less waste in landfills, it also can help prolong the use of a landfill, adding another benefit by not having to start a new landfill where that can end up with hazardous materials and limiting the sites that can possibly cause contamination due to hazardous items or disaster. Another issue for a community recycling can help elevate is the cost of landfills. In appendix 6 of Funding Your Solid Waste Management Program, a reference for Alaskan communities about landfills, there are many “major program costs”; included in the costs are opening and closing a landfill along with costs for maintaining a closed landfill. With all of these costs, it would certainly make sense to add to landfills as little as possible. The more trash that is recycled, the longer it will take before having to close a landfill.
Each time trash is disposed of, the method used can either be damaging or safe for the environment. Our environment, natural resources, and community all benefit from the more involved action of recycling instead of just throwing out the trash. Even though it may take a small amount of extra time to sort the trash for recycling, the benefits of doing so are wide reaching. With practice, recycling can become as automatic as taking trash to the curb. With the growing population of the world there is a growing amount of trash, and unless a completely trashed environment in the coming years is desirable, it imperative that recycling become a daily habit and throwing out the trash a remnant idea of the past.
Appendix 6: Funding Your Solid Waste Management Program. (na). http://www.anthc.org/cs/dehe/sustops/rasc/upload/Appendix%206.pdf
US EPA. (2007, November). Methodology for Estimation Municipal Solid Waste Recycling Benefits http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/06benefits.pdf
US EPA. (2011, December). Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2010. http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/pubs/msw_2010_rev_factsheet.pdf
US EPA. (2012a, March 5). Recycling. Wastes- Resource Conservation- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. http://www.epa.gov/osw/conserve/rrr/recycle.htm
US EPA. (2012b, April 9). Landfills. Wastes- Non-Hazardous Waste- Municipal Solid Waste. http://www.epa.gov/osw/nonhaz/municipal/landfill.htm