A Guide to (Properly) Recycling
Did you know that you can't recycle a smoothie cup the same way you recycle a can of tomatoes? And that pizza box you've been "recycling" is really just wish-cycling? Let's dive into the impact of each material when recycling. Strap in, here we go!
Before we dive into how certain materials are recycled, here is a quick list of some of the benefits of recycling:
Environmental Benefits of Recycling
- Reduces potential for additional materials to end up in landfills and incinerators
- Conserves natural resources like timber and water
- Prevents the need to extract raw materials thus reducing pollution
Economic Benefits of Recycling
- Saves energy by reducing the extraction/manufacturing/transportation of virgin material
- Creates jobs (including recycling jobs, wages, and tax revenue)
- Increases economic security by reusing domestic materials
The next time you go shopping consider selecting items that are made with recycled materials. If you want to go one step further, select items that are easy to recycle (we’ll get into exactly what that means in just a sec). And of course, purchasing products that are 100% compostable without any plastic involved (like us!) is even better.
Common Materials and How They’re Recycled
Paper. One of the most common recyclable materials is paper. Though, it does have a limit to how many times it can be recycled; paper is usually recycled five to seven times before the fibers become too short to produce quality paper. When this happens, the pulp is made into a paper paste that is often used for newspapers or egg cartons.
Plastic. This material is harder to recycle than paper. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) notes that only 8.7%, of 3 million tons of plastic, was recycled in 2018. In that same year, 27 million tons of plastic ended up in landfills. Keep in mind—it takes 450 years for a plastic water bottle to degrade in a landfill and approximately 500 years for a plastic toothbrush.
▴ More than 8 million tons of plastic bottles end up in our oceans each year
Although we recommend avoiding plastic products, they can be inescapable at times. Here is a helpful guide that explains the different types of recyclable plastics, what they are recycled into, and how that may affect health.
Glass. Certain types of glass, like those used for glass food containers, can be recycled over and over again. The EPA estimates that out of 12.3 million tons of glass, 25% was recovered from recycling in 2018. It’s also less expensive to recycle glass than it is to produce it from its raw materials. According to EPA archives, it can take approximately 1 million years for a glass bottle to break down if not properly recycled.
Aluminum. Like glass, aluminum can also be recycled indefinitely. The EPA notes that 34.9% of aluminum containers and packaging were recycled in 2018. Yet, 2.7 million tons of aluminum still made it to landfills that year.
Recycling aluminum saves approximately 90% of the energy required for making new aluminum. The production of new aluminum, on the other hand, requires the extraction of bauxite: a resource that requires strip-mining and degrades surrounding vegetation/habitats. Not cool.
Although some of these materials can be efficiently recycled, often, production of new materials is extremely harmful to the environment. That’s why we recommend (wherever possible) shopping for products that are ethically sourced and 100% biodegradable. Next time you’re shopping, consider where the product/packaging will end up.
More Information on recycling can be found on the EPA’s website under Frequent Questions on Recycling. For more information on reducing waste click here.
Article by Impact Snacks Contributor, Ava Tajally