Last Updated: 9/13/21
If you’re sitting on your sofa, scratching your head and wondering why you should make an effort to recycle, then here are a few facts, tips, and thoughts to get you energized. Recycling is the one duty we can’t run away from – if none of us do it, the world will turn into a huge pile of rubbish, and our children and their children will have nothing left when their turn comes.
The world population is growing (over 7 billion at the last count) and we’re all producing way too much waste. Gather it all together and you’d be able to cover whole cities beneath hundreds of feet of garbage.
Sounds dramatic? Then read on.
A Brief History of Recycling
We’ve been recycling ever since we figured out how to use tools and live in communities. Not only that, recycling is a part of the natural order of things – plants die and fall to the ground and become compost providing nutrients for new growth. Animals similarly die and get digested by worms and flies and are absorbed back into the eco-structure. Sounds messy, but it’s the way of things. Only man has the ability to produce millions of plastic bottles and gadgets that need a little extra work to make sure they are disposed of properly.
We are the only species that produces stuff that is not biodegradable.
Events such as the growth of large communities where sanitation had to be considered more closely and plagues like the Black Death which required greater hygiene to combat led us to become more responsible in the way we dealt with waste.
Producing paper from recycling goes as far back as the late 17th Century when a factory in Philadelphia started making it from cotton off-cuts. During the American War of Independence, soldiers were forced to recycle metal and other objects to help fight the British, and in the 1840s the pedlar trade grew up to recycle and sell things that people didn’t need anymore.
Our own Maryland was the first to introduce curbside recycling in 1874 and towards the end of the century, New York appointed its first street cleaning commissioner. Shortly after we began developing recycling plants and in 1916 prison inmates were put to work in Chicago to deal with all our waste.
Of course, once the Second World War came there was plenty of need for recycling to build weapons and equipment for our boys abroad. After the war, we started producing packaging for food that could be kept in supermarkets and put in freezers. We needed to find a way to deal with this new kind of waste.
Then we had the audacity to create the aluminum can and by 1965 waste had indeed become something of an issue for the nation. That led to the creation of the Solid Waste Disposal Act in Congress and we’ve been fighting a torrid battle against our own human waste ever since.
Some frightening facts about the waste we produce
Remember those aluminum cans? Last year we threw away in the region of 36 billion cans that combined would have a value at a scrap of nearly $600 million. Want to know how much food waste we create each and every year? Nearly 22 million tonnes. According to some sources, if we didn’t throw all that food away but composted it instead, that would have the effect of taking two million vehicles off the highways. As individuals, we produce something in the region of 1.5 tonnes of waste every 12 months.
According to dosomething.org:
“Americans make more than 200 million tons of garbage each year, enough to fill Busch Stadium from top to bottom twice a day. Next time you’re at a sporting event or tailgate, host a trash-free tailgate using only recyclable materials…”
Plastic bags kill!
Scientists will tell you that a plastic bag, though probably used for just a few minutes to carry something from A to B, can then take a millennium to degrade. Not only that they are one of the major threats to wildlife in our country both for land animals and particularly for those in the sea who mistake it for food.
According to EcoWatch:
“When marine life ingests plastic, they can die of starvation because their stomachs are filled with plastic debris. Marine life can be cut by plastic, and also receive internal injuries. Seabirds are known for feeding on the ocean’s surface, making them more likely to ingest floating plastic debris. Adult seabirds go to feed their young, and their chicks feed on this plastic…”
Still, think you shouldn’t dispose of your waste and recycle responsibly? Here are the benefits of making sure that you do:
- It saves the environment and reuses valuable resources.
- It saves energy because less work is needed to create your stuff from raw materials.
- It stops processes such as incineration which release dangerous gases into the environment.
There are over 7 billion of us on the planet and that equates to a lot of waste. Even if we try our best that still represents a huge amount of material that needs to be recycled. Yes, we can continue to throw everything into landfill and all the dangers that create, the equivalent of sweeping dirt under the carpet.
Or each and every one of us could make the effort and help reduce our collective impact on the world.
It takes just small changes on an individual level but can have a massive impact on a national and global level.
Take some advice from Conserve Energy Future:
“It is clear that people need to do their part, especially if they want to work toward a sustainable planet that will be around for many more years to come. It is clear that we aren’t doing enough to take care of the planet, which is why we really need to learn more about recycling…”