Is there a point to our weekly walks with our blue bins to the curbside? To remembering what we can and can’t recycle? Is it even making a difference?
Yes, yes, and a big green YES.
For Earth Day, let’s explore the various ways recycling protects our planet.
Recycling conserves natural resources.
One of the most significant environmental benefits of recycling is the conservation of natural resources. Before the pages in your notebook were paper, they were part of a tree. Recycling items made of paper, plastic, and metal reduces the need to extract new raw materials. Recycling not only preserves the resources materials are derived from, but also other resources used in their production. For example, recycling 2,000 pounds of paper saves 7,000 gallons of water, according to an article from Stanford University.
With Manitoba recycling millions of kilograms of materials in curbside recycling each year (not to mention materials recycled through other programs), the benefits to our natural resources are massive. Don’t think of your empty bottles, cardboard boxes, or other recyclables as worthless junk that has served its purpose. Instead, think of them as the valuable resources used to produce them.
Recycling reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
When paper and packaging can be made without extracting, transporting, and processing timber or metal ore, it emits significantly fewer GHGs. A 2009 Canadian study showed an emissions reduction of 369 kg of CO2e per tonne when producing recycled paper compared to paper made from virgin pulp (i.e., trees).
Much of the GHG reductions come from the energy saved from recycling.
Recycling saves energy.
Energy consumption is the biggest contributor to GHG emissions from paper and packaging production. Although Manitoba gets it’s power mainly from hydroelectricity, most energy is produced elsewhere. Manufacturing with recycled materials uses less energy than manufacturing with raw materials. An article by the National Institutes of Health states that recycled aluminum uses 95% less energy than it would to make the same amount from its virgin source. Other recycled materials also see great reductions in energy use:
- Steel – 60% less
- Newspaper – 40% less
- Plastics – 70% less
- Glass – 40% less
Recycling also diverts materials from landfills and incinerators. As landfill waste breaks down, it produces methane and, as you can probably imagine, burning waste releases numerous GHGs. Recycling your materials prevents both scenarios.
By reducing GHG emissions, recycling helps reduce air pollution and slow global warming.
Remember to Reduce and Reuse first.
Recycling beats the garbage every time, but don’t forget to reduce waste in other ways.
Be mindful of your impact as a consumer. Try to reduce your consumption of both recyclable and non-recyclable goods when possible. Look for zero or low-waste options for whatever you buy. Avoid single-use items. The federal government estimates their ban on a handful of single-use plastics will eliminate 1.3 million tonnes of waste over the next decade. Think of other items you can reduce in your life—getting a reusable water bottle or using refillable containers for bulk food are simple ways to cut back on waste.
Try to Reuse the things you do buy. Before you recycle that pickle jar or throw that old hat in the garbage, consider if you or someone else could make use of it. You could use the jar to store sugar (the bags always spill!). The old hat? Just because it’s not your style anymore doesn’t mean someone else wouldn’t love it. With thrift stores, the old proverb that one person’s trash is another person’s treasure is as true today as ever. For more valuable items you simply don’t need any more, try selling them online.
If you can’t reuse something, then recycle it. You’ll protect your own environment and the rest of the Earth. If you’re not sure if something is recyclable, visit the Recyclepedia or download the app to find out if it goes in your blue bin or needs to be recycled somewhere else.