Is Recycling Really Important?
Yes and no.
Recycling paper, plastics, & metals:
- Keeps these materials out of the landfills,
- Reduces the energy needed to manufacture new products from recycled material than to make them from raw materials—and this means a corresponding reduction in greenhouse gas emissions [GHG]
- Reduces the demand on natural resources, including petroleum.
That being said, recycling can easily divert us from the first and most important of ‘the 3 Rs’—Reduce. It’s far more important to reduce our consumption of unnecessary products and packaging than to recycle them afterwards. Instead of switching from Styrofoam to paper cups & take-out containers so we can recycle them, we need to eat in or switch to reusable mugs & containers. Instead of using 2.5 million tons of plastic bottles each year, we need to find ways to eliminate most of them. [Just think how many bottles it takes to make up even 1 ton!] Yes, recycling those plastic grocery bags is better than letting them wind up in the Great Pacific garbage patch [now over twice the size of Texas!], but why not switch to reusable bags instead?
And recycling rates can be misleading—if a person or institution eliminates unnecessary packaging and single-use serve ware, there won’t be much to recycle and rates will actually go down. Whether you measure the ‘diversion rate’ [recyclables diverted from the trash stream] or ‘per capita recycling’ [average amount each person recycles], high recycling rates favor those whose purchases include lots of these unnecessary items as long as they manage to recycle them.
Recycling is better than disposal as waste, but no where near as good as Reducing consumption and finding news ways to Reuse products.