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To Recycle Or Not To Recycle

To recycle or not to recycle that is an important question that we all need to ask ourselves. As the population continues to grow and the earth gets more and more crowded with people and their waste it becomes a major issue of whether there will be enough space on the planet earth for future generations and their waste (trash) too. When first beginning to collect trash and and counting the trash my attitude was – what influence could my family make? But as I began to research recycling and how some wastes pollute the environment my attitude took a change.

The attitude turned more oward concern than what or how much my waste contributed to the big picture. Below is a chart reflecting the amount of trash that was counted and weighted during a four-week period beginning the week of Monday, April 24, 2000 and ending on These weights were rounded up to the nearest pound.

During the first week of my collection the oldest child was visiting her grandparents, which I thought would have made a difference in the amount of trash that he Orrs would accumulate. There was a major surprise to the household of how much food waste accumulated over a week, and how the numbers of plastic and glass were almost equivalent. The food waste can probably be attributed to the fact that Mrs. Orr still cooks for five people and the children never really eat all their food.

When raising three children you get into a pattern and it has been hard for my wife to change that pattern as far as the amount of food that is bought and the amount of food she cooks at any one time. The newspaper was not a great surprise because each week the household receives he same number of papers, the O’Fallon journal daily, the Sunday Post Dispatch, two journals and some weeks the papers varied in size. Depending on the media. The large amount of other paper came as a major shock, This consisted of some color paper and disposable diapers that the youngest child uses.

A lot of this was various bits of junk mail that is received weekly that was not be counted as white paper or in the newspaper Paper napkins and towels also added to the grand total, as well. There was a lot of white paper that was collected, but this was during the time when the computer was eing used a lot due to the youngest daughter and her book report and most of the mail The first week I weighed two pounds of plastic. This pound consisted of two Pepsi bottles and water bottles.

After the first couple of days, it became more aware of how much water that was being used and the solution to this was reusing the same bottles instead of throwing the empty ones out, which also saved money. The researching period of recycling and learning what all the waste is doing to the our Planet, was when the biggest concerns became aware of the amount of other trash that as counted. Because this is the type of trash that cannot be recycled easily. The disposable diapers and the sanitary products are a major concern because this type of waste goes directly into a landfill.

When further research on the disposable diapers, it was surprising to find that the disposal of the diapers is not causing the controversy, that it did several years ago. “According to one study it was found that disposable diapers cause more trash but cloth diapers use more energy…” (Samuelson 143 – 144). This would mean that no matter what you use that you are still causing some amage to the environment in one way or another (The Orr family goes throught about four diapers a day).

You could apply this same thought for the sanitary products that they would be just as hazardous to the dumpsites as the disposable diaper would be. Even though today there are many things in a landfill that are more dangerous than the disposable diaper they are still causing problems because of the plastic liners…” (Lee 37). But because of the new landfills that are being built today this is becoming less of a problem. The waste is unable to reach the ground water or the surrounding soil, Because of the different types of waste that humans produce and because each requires a little bit different type of disposal it is often confusing and expensive to recycle…” (Bay 6).

In the United States more waste is produced than in any other country in the world. The statistics vary from publication to publication. “American’s throw out 16 billion disposable pens, 240 million tires, 2 billion disposable razors and about 18 billion disposable diapers…” (6). In addition to this we could rebuild the commercial airplanes every three months with all the aluminum that is iscarded annually (6). “According to another source over a year’s time the amount of trash discarded by weight is “40. 2% paper; 7% glass; 8. % metal; 8. 1 % plastics; 8. 3% rubber, leather, cloth, and wood; 6. 8% food waste, 17. 7% yard waste; 3. 2% miscellaneous…” (Foster 6).

The graph below shows how my collections coincide with the averages – paper is the highest with a combined total of newspapers (50 pounds), other paper (37 pounds) and white paper (an average of . 025 pounds) for a grand total of One of the biggest reasons that the accumulation of waste in the United States has otten out of hand is the growing number of people residing in this country. Even if the amount of trash remained the same amount per capita, the amount of trash would still increase just because of the population increases…” (Lee 14). Another reason for this is the lifestyle that Americans have become accustomed to living. The American people have just abused the surroundings and taken so much for granted. “We have become a nation hooked on the convenience of disposable items” (14). The waste problems that we are facing today began during the economic boom following World War II.

With more money to spend Americans were more than happy to spend some of it on convenience…” (Enger, Smith 359). Not only are the products that we are using and throwing away a problem but also the packaging that these products come in adds to the accumulation. Everything out there comes in a package, be it plastic, cardboard, paper bag, or Styrofoam carton; jars and glass bottles and even metal containers (Lee 14). Even though this packaging is needed to keep the product clean and in good condition, some of it is not necessarily needed or it could be used in a way to keep the waste at a minimum (I 5).

Waste is expensive – it costs time, energy, and space, as well as money…” (James 15). Waste is a natural part of nature’s recycling system. When plants and animals die they decay and decompose and become part of the earth after worms, maggots, fungi and bacteria break it down. Waste streams turn into many different forms; “it can become part of the soil or maybe a river, where it is used again by growing plants and animals. This is a natural process and it is a never-ending cycle…” (James 6). A good example of this process of death, decay, new life, and growing would be compost heap.

Compost heaps are valuable because they rot down garden waste, as well as vegetable peelings and waste food and produce humus” (6). The humus is then worked back into the soil where it helps with new growth and improves the texture of the soil (6). You can easily reduce the volume of material a household sends to a landfill by half if you would if one would use a compost heap (The Consumer Recycling Guide 7). Because nature deals with waste efficiently it becomes a resource because it is used over and over again.

People on the other hand can be very inefficient at handling waste. Even though the Earth can handle some waste that humans produce, the large amounts that humans throw away is causing an overload on the entire system. The problem is exaggerated because much of what humans produce is not biodegradable and it does not decompose very easy. “When products made of glass or tin do not decompose or sometimes taking years to decompose they can cause pollution to the environment…” What do these pollutants do to the Earth’s environment?

The definition of pollution is the changing of a natural environment, either by natural or artificial means, o that the environment becomes harmful to the living things normally found in it Pollution also stops the Earth’s natural cycle of breaking things down into reusable elements (9). So by adding to landfills or dumping waste into the oceans or rivers we are changing the composition of the Earth’s natural ability to change the waste matter There are many different types of waste on Earth in addition to the trash and garbage from our homes.

There is industrial waste from factories, as well as sewage that comes from many different sources. There is waste that is produced on farms from the se of fertilizers and pesticides that are used to help in the production of the foods that are ate. The chemicals used are to help in the yield of a better crop but they also cause pollution. When these chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides are sprayed the wind and rain can carry the chemicals into the air and waterways. Fertilizers contain nitrates, which have been known to cause a very wide range of health problems.

The waste from the farm animals is another concern because of the great amounts being produced today does not decompose fast enough and is washed into the rivers and treams or underground into the water supplies. “When the pollution enters the water the process of eutrophication can occur. This process is caused when large quantities of water plants like algae die and decay and the oxygen that keeps the fish and other living things alive are used up…” (Becklake 15). Solid waste can be disposed of in many different ways. The most common would be that of a landfill.

A landfill is where garbage is disposed of into holes in the ground in order to take up as little space as possible (Becklake 11). Although landfills are one of the nost common and lowest cost alternatives to dispose garbage there are some drawbacks to this method. One of the main drawbacks is that if the garbage is not treated before it is dumped it can encourage the spread of rats, flies and other pests (Solid Waste 1) “Another disadvantage is that when it rains or snows the water seeps into the materials and dissolves them into leachate, which is polluted water…” (Becklake 11).

This leachate will seep into the ground and will at some point in time pollute the underground water table that is sometimes the source of our drinking waters. The leachate also pollutes some river and lakes. Some other disadvantage of landfills is the gas that is produced by rotting garbage . This is mainly methane gas and can be dangerous if it seeps into areas that are heavily populated (residential and business buildings). These gases are also very dangerous once the landfill is covered because they have the potental to cause explosions (12).

In todays modern landfills these gases are ran through pipes away from the landfill site and then used to produce natural energy (12). “This energy then can be used for otherthings and it becomes less dangerous to the nvironment…” (Bailey 14). Ammonia ia another gas that is in the landfills , although this is not as dangerous as methane is does cause a terrible odor. Landfills are full of billions of little living things called microbes or microorganisms that eat the waste garbage that is dumped at the dump sites. These microbes are able to eat their own weight in food every few seconds.

The microbes can be bacteria or fungi and even though we can not see them they play a very important role in the cycle of life. Microbes play the same role in the landfill that they do in your compost pile in the home. Because decomposition in a landfill takes so long some of the bacteria responsible for breaking the garbage down need air to live and eat. “So the process of decomposing takes a long time because the kind of bacteria that needs no air or water are the only ones that can keep on working and much of the solid waste stops decomposing altogether…” (Fosterl 8).

Burning or Incineration is another form of waste disposal and although this seems like a good answer to the landfill waste crisis it too has many problems. The cost is one of the highest forms of waste disposal, it can costs over three times more to burn garbage han it does to dispose of it into a landfill. Then the problem is what to do with the ash that is created, there is about one ton of ash for every ten tons of trash burned. This ash could still contain materials that are harmful when the ash is buried.

Dioxin from the ash is a very hazardous material; it contains chlorine and is produced when paper and chemicals are manufactured and when plastics are burned at low temperatures. “Because the burning of waste causes smoke this causes another form of pollution and that is air pollution from the gases that are produced by the burning garbage…” Becklake 12). However, the more modern incinerators of today are equipped to scrub the smoke that contains the gases before they are released into the atmosphere.

The new age incinerators get much hotter than some of the older versions and are able to burn more of the trash. Because they are able to burn hotter it causes glass and ceramic to melt and then crumble making it easier to dispose of the residue…” (Foster 23). Because the biggest way to eliminate waste is to not produce it in the first place “source reduction is becoming a popular means of disposing of trash before it ecomes trash…” (Enger, Smith 365). Packaging as mentioned earlier is a problem that contributes greatly to the amount of waste that is produced daily so it is becoming essential that manufacturers reduce the amount of materials used in packaging.

Some of the ways this is being accomplished is to convert to plastics and lightweight aluminum by reducing the thickness of these products. The plastic milk containers weight almost half of what they weighed when they were first introduced into our society. Aluminum cans are also being produced lighter than they have been in the past. By making these products in concentrated form business manufacturers are reducing the amount of packaging it takes to pack detergents and other cleaning products. Some of the many food products, such as juices are being sold in this form too.

But like anything as humans in order for this to work the consumers must want to take care of the enviroment,ultimately favering products sold this way. “Many communities are starting municipal composting programs to keep yard waste out of landfills…”( 366). Waste can be disposed of by recycling. Although the solid waste is not really isposed of the waste in the true sense that you burn it or bury it the waste is being changed to another usable form.

“Recycling has become more popular throughout the United States in the last ten years… (366). Even though recycling has become more and more popular this form of waste disposal seems to have problems. One of major problems is the need for the separation. “This is very costly if done by hand, after it is collected and it seems that most people feel that it is inconvenient if done at home…” (Lee 69). This inconvenience is one of the biggest reason more people hose not to recycle, people do not who really want to go to the trouble of sorting garbage into recyclable and non-recyclable bins ?

It seemes that it is inconvenient to rinse out cans and to get them ready to be recycled. As society changes “some states are making it mandatory to recycle because lawmakers think that this is the only way that you can change the behavior of the residents…” (69). Other problems encountered with recycling is that the demand for recycled goods have not yet met the demand. So if there is not a market for these products the fforts taken to recycle have been in vain The inconsistency in the market is another big problem.

One example of this would be used newspapers. At one time they were so plentiful that brokers were paying to have them hauled away…” (69). The reluctance of some industries to use recycled products is another strike against recycling. Previously egg cartons and meat-packaging trays were made of pulp and could be made of a very low grade of paper that could be made from recycled paper. “But because these products are now packaged in plastic foam containers the market for paper has dropped…” (70). Other problems associated with recycling are either of the economic or technical nature (Enger, Smith 367).

Plastics are one particular concern because even though the plastics used are recyclable the methods of recycling vary from plastic to plastic. “Because they each have their own chemical make-up they cannot be recycled together thus becoming very costly…” (367). Even though these problems exist there are still many benefits from recycling. When recycling about a ton of paper you can save: “7953 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, 17 trees, 587 pounds of air pollution, 3. 06 cubic yards of landfill space and 077 K Watt-hours of energy (Environmental Paper 1).

Although paper consumption has increased significantly less paper is going to landfills because of recycling (2) Newspaper is something that everyone should be recycling – it takes very little time and effort to separate and because it is biodegradable it is relatively easy to break down to Glass is another resource that is easy to recycle. If more people would recycle glass, “pollution would be reduced by 14-20%…” (Environmental Glass 1). Glass never wears out and it can be recycled again and again. Recycling a ton of glass could ave more than a ton of resources (1).

When a ton of glass is produced from raw material 384 pounds of mining waste is created (1). When you recycle glass you are not only saving valuable resources you are also being taking care of the environment by not producing more waste to be put in landfills. There are still skeptics that don’t really think recycling makes a difference for various reasons. “Recycling does make sense and does make a difference: Recycling saves natural resources, saves energy, saves clean air and water, saves landfill space and saves money and creates new jobs…” (Environmental Hows and Whys 1).

All of these reasons, make sense but the question is how much really does make a difference? As mentioned before, The Orr family was one of those skeptics but after doing the research for this paper they have changed their thought process and every little bit does count. Even if it is one small piece of paper, newpaper, milk cartin, diaper or plastic bag if it can be recycled, as the Nike saying says “Just Do It” because it leaves that much more space for those things that are not, and it is needed. We do need a place for those things too without causing any more havoc to our environment than we already have.

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