RecyclingRecycling, Making a Difference
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
toward 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
Sunday, May 21, 2000.
These weights were rounded up to the nearest pound.
Week Aluminum Other Metals Glass Plastics Newspaper White Paper Other Paper Food Prducts and Lftovrs
1- Apr 24-30 10 5 4 5
2- May 1-7
3- May 8-14
4- May 15-21
The Orrs household consists of my wife and three children, ages 9, 5 and 2 (3
boys and 2 girls). 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
the 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
the 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
being used a lot due to the youngest daughter and her book report and most of the mail
was in the form of junk.
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
was 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
damage 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
discarded annually (6). “According to another source over a year’s time the amount of
trash discarded by weight is 40.2% paper; 7% glass; 8.6% 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
gotten 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,
so 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
into something useable (9).
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
use 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
streams 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
rnost 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
environment…” (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
than 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
becomes 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
disposed 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
chose 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
efforts 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
4077 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
save 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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