Featured article written by the lovely Keisha Nicholson from South University, Savannah.
A New Approach to Recycling
Glass, paper, aluminum cans, plastic, and metal are typically thought of first when the word recycle arises. Each item is carefully and efficiently separated into its own bin to be picked up by the local waste management department. Are the benefits of recycling considered every time something is disposed of? Is the final destination of these recycled items even a concern or is our work complete when these products are placed in their specified bins?
Reusing or recycling has an extensive history and has been around for centuries. In Japan during the year 1031, waste paper was recycled into new paper and was exported all around the country. Recycling was much cheaper to produce than virgin materials during pre-industrial times. It wasn’t until the year 1690 that manufactured recycled paper was introduced using cotton and linen rags by a paper mill in Philadelphia named the Rittenhouse Mill. In the 1900s, the phrase “Waste as Wealth” was utilized to enforce the theory that recycling would yield revenue.
During war, when resources were scarce, items such as jewelry and coins were melted to create weaponry. The federal government established the Waste Reclamation Service between 1916 and 1918, during World War I, due to insufficient raw materials. As time passed it became cheaper and easier to produce “new” products rather than to reuse them. According to Busch Systems, in 1955 ease and convenience were the two most desirable qualities in product marketing, inevitably leading to parks, forests, and highways becoming littered with garbage.
The public was made aware nationally, in 1970 by the first Earth Day, of the environmental damage caused by a considerable amount of waste not being recycled. Standards for incineration of waste, landfills, dumping of hazardous components, and the termination of open dumps wasn’t introduced until 1976 by the federal government. Curbside recycling programs were eventually implemented and in 1988 the United States had approximately 1000 programs in place. The importance and benefits of recycling has been publicized over the years. Just last year in July, California enacted the first ban of plastic bag use state wide. The reuse of items was vastly influenced by the economy in the past, this is still the case today but with an environmental twist.
Recycling creates a systemized clean and safe environment nationwide but has its disadvantages as well. Landfills are areas of land used to dispose of waste either by dumping the waste on top of the ground or burying it into the soil so the land can still be utilized. It seems highly unsanitary for land to be used just for the sake of disposable items. Recycling is able to reduce the amount of waste that is delivered to landfills by reusing specific components from used products. Do you ever wonder what happens to your recycled items once they leave your home? Are they being dumped in a landfill somewhere or do they actually reach a facility for recyclables? As the value for recycled items increase the more they are considered a commodity. It is less likely the government would pay for an employee to drive to your home to pick up your recycled items and simply have them thrown into a landfill. That would be the equivalent of lighting a bag of money on fire.
Landfills provides a home for all of our wastes and is kept far enough to prevent environmental and groundwater contamination. It seems a bit contradicting since dumping contaminated waste on a piece of land will eventually leak into the soil. Landfills may be stored in a land “far far away” but it still has devastating effects on the environment, just not for the public to have to see or deal with. On August 18, 2015, Natasha Norman depicts the dark truth about landfills all across the world in her article “13 Mind-Blowing Images of Landfills Around the World Show the True Cost of Our Waste”. These images were difficult to swallow. We are wasting valuable land just to store waste. Approximately two billion tons of trash is dumped across the globe each year. According to The World Counts this massive amount of waste is even possible due to ninety nine percent of the things we buy are disposed of within six months. We have lost sight of the value of items especially when we have no need for them anymore.
Conservative Energy Future provides the benefits and consequences of recycling on their official website. Recycling reduces the use of energy by decreasing the production of new materials in factories, this solution also offers a reduction in cost for the manufacturer. While this solution seems attractive many manufacturers refuse to use recycled products because of the life of the product, the negative perception of recyclables from customers, and the limited use due to chemicals or bacteria. Livestrong describes the negative effects of recycling.
“Waste paper reprocessing produces a sludge that contains solids including small fibers, ink from the de-inking process and fillers. This waste, including the heavy metals from the inks, is often sent to landfills. Incineration is an alternative, but this process releases dangerous emissions, including dioxins and hydrocarbons, as well as the heavy metals from the inks. The ash that remains after incineration also is consigned to landfills.” (Livestrong 2016)
All waste facilities should have effective sanitary standards that do not jeopardize the environment, community, or their employees. Recycling has been in working progress throughout history and is producing incredible results. Both the advantages and disadvantages should be considered with an excelling future in mind. Many only consider the effect that change will have on the present, dismissing the potential benefits recycling may have for the future.
Knowing that trees are our planet’s lungs it is hard to swallow the fact that clear cutting exists. One hundred acres of trees are chopped down by the minute just to produce paper. Trees are clear cut without the intention of planting new trees, this also destroys habitats for many animals which result in excessive animals in residential areas. It is amazing that these precious plants are cut down in minutes but take approximately 15 to 20 years to mature. People do not consider the lengthy process it takes to create one sheet of paper and many are careless when it comes to sustaining this resource. The cost of a single sheet allows consumers to overlook the importance of using each sheet efficiently. The reason recycled items may have a limited life may have something to do with the materials used when producing the original product. If the initial intent was to produce products that have a longer life and that are environmentally friendly decreases the need for manufacturers to reuse the item multiple times. The goal should be to minimize damage and production when creating a product for the public. Authors William McDonough and Michael Braungart describe the importance of creating products with materials that are already sustainable in their durabook “Cradle to Cradle”. They believe recycling is actually “downsizing” because products are unusable after being recycled sometimes even once. They depict the unseen chemicals that are produced with the product and the accumulation of chemicals that are sustained by constant use such as our clothes and furniture. Their approach to an improved recycling system can be felt in the cover and pages in their book alone. The pages are made of synthetic paper, are waterproof and can be recycled with ease with the capability of reusing each sheet multiple times.
As a nation, we must agree on a more sustainable future for us, our loved ones, and the future generation. It is not their responsibility to clean up the destructive mess we have created. Sure, there is a dark side to almost anything but it is our responsibility to weigh the pros and cons for better solutions. Scientific research, if funded properly, enables us to reach unimaginable success for all mankind. Recycling is not just about separating glass from plastic, it is a lot deeper than that and almost anything can be recycled. Most items that are useless are perceived as junk because they are “no good” anymore. The classic saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This speaks volumes when it comes to recycling! What you may have no use for anymore may be exactly what someone else has been searching for. Old clothes, children’s toys, blankets, furniture, electronics, vehicles etc. are all able to be recycled. Take these items to your nearest shelter or the Salvation Army and offer another individual the chance to reuse them. Some places will even offer you cash for your items or a tax slip so you can claim the items on your taxes.
We may not own the machinery to “downsize” our useless items but we have the ability to incorporate a safer recycling system in our own homes and community. We must keep in mind the toxic disadvantages of recycling items on a consistent basis. The more we are aware of possible solutions and consequences the more we are able to assist others in creating a sustainable lifestyle.
A Brief Timeline of the History of Recycling. (n.d.). Busch Systems
The Negative Effects of Recycling. (n.d.). Live Strong
Advantages and Disadvantages of Recycling. (n.d.). Conservative Energy Future
Norman N. (2015). 13 Mind-blowing images of landfills around the world show the true cost of our waste
McDonough W. & Braungart M. (2002) Cradle to cradle: remaking the way we make things. North Point Press.
World waste facts. The World Counts