Why recycle?

What are the quantifiable benefits of the individual receycling household paper and plastics? Is it just a feel-good endeavor or is there areal reason to recycle?

At my house we have two receptacles provided by Waste Management. The one for garbage is significantly smaller than the one for recyclables. This fact alone made us start separating out more recyclable materials.

An action doesn’t have to have an individual benefit to be worthwhile, you know.

With many recycled products (and I’ll admit I’m not really sure about paper and glass), it’s cheaper and uses less energy to use recycled materials than raw materials.

With stuff like glass (which is made out of sand, and there’s no sand shortage), the advantage is keeping it out of landfills. If you happen to live in a big city where the trash has to be trucked to landfills hundreds of miles distant versus local recycling facilities, there is also an energy saving there.

In our community we have three receptacles provided by Waste Management. The one for garbage and two for recyclables. The Waste Management people then collect them and toss them together into the same truck and take them and dump them all together in the same dump.

I never got the point of recycling paper. As far as I know, most paper is made from trees grown for the purpose of becoming paper. This takes carbon out of the atmosphere and puts it into paper. Since I’m guessing tossing paper into a land fill prevents the carbon from reaching the atmosphere AND requires new trees to be grown. Can the energy savings of making new paper out of used paper really outweigh sequestering that much carbon in a landfill? I mean certainly some of it will leak out as the landfill decomposes, but it’s probably much slower than the rate at which we grow new trees for paper, right?

When we recycle, we can look down our noses at those who do not. This in turn may improve our position in the local Status class.

Cecil on recycling:


My city provides free recycling bins for all residents. They sell the recyclables and use the money to fund city services. It saves me money on fees and taxes.

Yes…its a good way for cities and towns to make money. A lot of recyclers are selling their stuff to China which apparently has a HUGE appetite for recycleables.
It’s basicly…one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. China is taking our trash, and reusing it…heck what’s not to like about that?

What I do with glass, is smash it in the harbor. Then it becomes beachglass.

Cite please?

Every time there is a thread on recycling, someone shows up to post this claim. I have in fact heard this claim from people living on different continents, and it seems unlikely that this kind of insanity (specifically providing receptacles for recycling (they’re not free you know) and then dumping it all) is an intercontinental issue. Given that it is an extremely convenient thing to believe if you don’t want to recycle, I strongly suspect it of being an urban legend.

(Also note that things being put on the same truck does not mean they’re being mixed. Any sanely designed recycling/trash pickup truck will have different compartments for different things.)

Yeah I was going to ask the same thing. We have a single garbage bin that is divided in half, one side for normal rubbish and the other for recyclables. The waste truck comes and dumps the contents into the back, BUT the truck is designed with two compartments and the rubbish goes to the right compartment.

The following is from a waste management pamphlet distributed by our city council.

My spouse tells me that this was a three month test to see if it would be practical in our edge of the ghetto neighborhood and that it was discontinued because persons were stealing the aluminum and sometimes the the containers too. She tells me that it was the city and not WM conducting the test. (And that WM was really quite wonderful but the city did not renew there contract so they could write a new contract with someones brother in law.)

I don’t know that it is written down, but the WM reps are quite willing to state this in public around here. When the cost of the recycled materials + the recycling fees collected from each homeowner falls below the cost of putting the materials in the landfill, the usual case here, WM puts all the materials in the landfill. The local environmental groups here have long since given up advocating recycling, preferring to concentrate on re-use. Now we might be a special case-the closest recycling facility to us is almost 100 miles away, but this condition seems pretty permanent.

Our Count has instituted single stream recycling which means all recyclable materials – paper, glass, metal – go into one bin, and the sorting is done at the recycling center rather than at the homes.

This is less efficient for the County, BUT they have found the compliance rate to be so much higher it is worth the added cost to sort at the center rather than requiring the originators to sort. (No cite, just cocktail party discussion with the manager of recycling for our County).

I’ve posted on this before, but one of the biggest benefits of recycling is minimizing what goes into landfills.

The issue with landfills is not just the space they take up (which is another not-insignificant issue here in the Northeast), but the expense of siting, building, and monitoring them for decades even after closure. Modern landfills are not just holes in the ground like the old “dumps.” Modern landfills have double impermeable liners on the bottom, leachate collection systems, gas collection systems, and impermeable caps on top, followed by another runoff collection system (for rain), topsoil, and grass. You also have to surround them with environmental monitoring wells to ensure that groundwater is not being contaminated by landfill leachate or runoff. Here in Connecticut, landfills have to be monitored for their active life plus 30 years.

The costs associated with disposing of materials in a modern landfill usually make it cost-effective to recycle materials that can be recycled, even if that part of the operation operates at a deficit.

There’s a finite amount of resources on the planet. Whether we use it up in the next hundred years, the next thousand, or the next eon, this is all we’re going to get, until we find a way to harvest resources elsewhere.

You… deliberately… litter broken glass… in a public area… because it might eventually turn into something cool-looking?

I think there’s a strong benefit that goes to the individual recycler.

We’ve all got trash. If the garbage men go on strike, the trash adds up, and stinks. If you accidentally throw something away that you shouldn’t have, you have to go digging in the trash. Even in normal circumstances, most households have too much trash–so someone has to ask someone else to take it out, or it adds up in a smelly way.

That’s not me any more. I still have trash, but the volumes are tiny. Then I have recycling, and, here’s my point, this isn’t trash. If I need to go through it for another look at a bill, it’s not all gross. If I don’t take it out enough, it’s just taking up space. The volume of nastiness I personally need to deal with is greatly reduced, simply by sorting out those things that others can use.

That’s not why I’ve been told to recycle, but I do recycle, and this is why I’ll continue.

And where, pray-tell, do these “resources” like glass, carbon, aluminum go when we “use them up”?

Ummm it WILL turn into something cool. I seed it in deep water (off a wharf AND when kayaking) and the tides carry it away. Also my town’s harbor is not used for swimming. The glass is also basicly heated sand. I also am very anal about scouring the beaches for other litter.
It’s a good thing to do, since it creates a cottage industry. (beachglass jewrely is VERY popular around here) It does not harm the enviroment the way plastic wrappers or plastic bottles do…