Why Recycling is Important: Positive Benefits

Recycling is the process of transforming waste into a new material by processes that allow us to reuse the raw material presented in the disposed of the item. The modern form of recycling started in the 1960s and has been involved since then, with multiple new business models adopting a more “circular” practice. 

Modern recycling processes vary between nations depending on their demand and capacity. Urban recycling focuses on extracting and processing glass, paper, aluminum cans, and plastics. The effectiveness of recycling in urban areas is highly dependent on the proper disposal practices highlighting why recycling is important. 

The Main Process of Recycling Consists of the Following Steps: 

Steps of recycling system
  1. Sorting: separating the waste per product and according to recommendations. Note that sorting practices vary among cities and even urban areas depending on how the local recycling industry is designed. 
  2. Disposing: Disposal of waste into bins, bags, and collecting points adequately is extremely important for recycling units. Clear market bins, constant awareness campaigns, and a clear description of sorting practices are key in this step. 
  3. Recycling: Individual process units are designed to recycle glass, paper, aluminum, plastics, etc. Recycling treatment involves chemical and physical steps with heating units, melting points, and chemical baths as part of the industrial step. 
  4. Commercialization: the recycled content is then sold to other businesses that use the material as a raw component in their industrial processes. 
  5. New end material: the recycled component is embedded in new products and reaches the market. At this stage, companies are motivated to promote the use of recycled components in their material which we can identify in clothing, household materials, furniture, etc.

Recycling is a key part of a circular economy. Circularity is a concept strongly supported by recycling practices. In a circular economy, individuals would consume materials, repair them when needed, reuse them for additional purposes, and then send them to recycling units. This would ensure that raw materials are used for longer periods and different purposes, reducing our pressure on the environment. 

What Are the Environmental Benefits of Recycling? 

1. Recycling Is a Very Effective Way to Save Energy and Reduce CO2 Emissions.

For example, recycling steel can save up to 74% of energy compared to extracting it from nature. Energy savings from recycling is due to the reduced need for mining, transporting, and the intensive use of high-temperature furnaces that produce aluminum, steel, and others. 

Incineration is a common practice that seeks to reduce the volume of waste produced by burning at high temperatures the trash. Recycling reduces incineration by bringing added value to the disposed material. While incineration can be used to create energy in a process called waste-to-energy (adopted in Japan, northern Europe, and South Korea), the energy saved by recycling certain products is still higher. Moreover, once inserted into a circular practice, the recycled component avoids additional raw material extraction from nature, adding more value to the product. 

2. Recycling Also Plays a Crucial Role in Wildlife Conservation. 

Why recycling is important

Recycling reduces habitat destruction and the associated threats to biodiversity by decreasing the need for raw material extraction. Mining and logging activities can lead to significant habitat loss for many species, increasing their risk of extinction. Moreover, recycling helps prevent waste, especially harmful substances like plastic, from reaching natural habitats where it can harm wildlife. 

Recycling also helps to keep the oceans clean. Recent estimates predict that nearly 10 million tons of plastic are washed into the ocean yearly. Most of this content is associated with inadequate disposal and missed recycling opportunities. By reducing the number of chemicals and washed materials available in landfills, recycling reduces the chances of having these content washed into the ocean. 

Recycling reduces immensely the amount of waste sent to landfills. As landfills represent a serious challenge for urban areas, keeping the volume of waste added to these sites low is important to support natural preservation. Moreover, with climate change and rising sea levels, certain urban areas face the challenge of improving landfill management due to the risk of flooding and contaminant dissemination.

3. Recycling Supports Preserving and Mitigating Natural Ecosystems

Reducing the extraction intensity needed to supply our raw material needs reduces our environmental footprint by lowering contaminant emissions, pollution, and ecological damage. For example, on average, 1 ton of recycled paper uses 23.000 liters of water less than required to obtain the same amount of paper from nature. 

This avoided water extraction is therefore kept in nature, supporting local ecosystems. 

Recycling also reduces greenhouse gas emissions due to the energy savings it brings. As mentioned, producing raw materials can be very energy-demanding, with items such as cement, steel, and aluminum adding up to over 15% of global energy consumption. Recycling directly reduced the estimated GHG emissions per product by reducing demand in these industries.

What Are the Economic Benefits of Recycling? 

Aside from generating raw materials from trash, recycling also contributes to a stronger economy by promoting new jobs and businesses. A recent Greenpeace study shows that recycling can generate up to 39 times more job positions than incineration processes. Recent analysis in the UK shows that currently, there are 144,185 people employed in the waste sector, with estimates increasing this number to 472,000 by 2035 if investments in the green industry remain. 

What Are The Social Benefits of Recycling? 

Recycling and repurposing can be an excellent social glue, connecting communities and strangers. Recycling products can be reached through repurposing, which consists of giving your old product a new use (or owner). The best example of a successful repurpose practice is thrift shops, which focus on the resale used items for a reduced cost. Between 2016 and 2021, the clothing resale market has grown by 109.4%, with multinational brands adopting multiple circular practices.

Second-hand local stores are increasing their use of recycled items under the concept of vintage. Gen Z shoppers are particularly aware of the impacts of their consumerism and adopt the thrift shopping practice as an exciting alternative to online shopping. Estimates forecast that the second-hand market will reach $77 billion a year, supporting the growth of this eco-friendly alternative. 

Recycling materials is good for the environment because it reduces the need for new raw products. Similarly, repurposing clothing, furniture, garments, etc., reduces our pressure on nature by reducing our demand in the industry. For example, buying second hands jeans saves up to 1800 gallons of water needed to grow the cotton required for production. 

Is Recycling an Answer to the Plastic Waste Problem? 

Plastic recycle

Plastic pollution is a worldwide problem, especially due to the low level of recycling. As plastic production is typically low cost, plastic has been used and disposed of without control. Due to its physical properties, plastic is not easily degraded, requiring an industrial recycling process. Overall, plastic is sorted, crushed, melted, and reshaped into a new product reaching final materials with the same flexibility and resistance as the original content. 

The physical stability of plastic makes it a very suitable content to be recycled. Unfortunately, the same properties render it almost impossible to degrade naturally, being shredded into small pellets that migrate through our food chain. The small plastic pellets are called microplastic and have recently been identified inside the human body. Despite having no proven direct correlation with diseases for humans, microplastics have become a growing cause of fish deaths as they are pointed to starve more frequently and change their eating patterns to higher-risk behaviors

Plastic should be recycled to avoid the need for more plastic production worldwide and as a strategy to reduce the presence of wasted plastic in nature. Following the proper procedure for local recycling is fundamental to ensure effective plastic recycling. Urban recycling units are generally equipped to provide plastic recycling services but still need to improve household compliance. 

How to Recycle

Recycling is important

The first step to improving your recycling is understanding how to recycle within your local facility. Recycling practices change according to the recycling unit’s equipment and processes, and different requirements are passed out to household clients. 

The most important thing to remember when understanding how to recycle is separating all recyclable content, and avoiding contamination from other materials, e.g., mixing paper, glass, and non-recyclable items. 

One of the main challenges with waste sorting is the presence of batteries in the content sorted. Batteries are responsible for causing nearly 700 fires every year in waste processing centers. Batteries emit toxic chemicals that can cause contamination at both recycling units and landfills. 

Another problem is the accumulation of residue in recycled content. Oils, fats, grease, and creams found as residue in recyclable content make it challenging for companies to operate adequately, pushing for more intense re-sorting and cleaning of the content. 

Last, it is important to understand that recycling practices depend on local suppliers, changing within countries and cities. Some countries have additional fines for those who fail to recycle adequately and financial compensation for those who abide by the rule. Overall, global trends are shifting to improving recycling practices and ensuring that cities are more energy efficient, less pollutant, and overall greener. 

Main Takeaways

  • Recycling is less energy-demanding than producing new materials, reducing the overall CO2 emissions from products. 
  • Recycling is present in most urban areas with various norms that should be followed strictly to reach the best results. 
  • Industry sectors like cement and steel continuously blend recycled material to reduce production costs and carbon footprint. 
  • Second-hand shopping (repurposing) has become a new trend favoring vintage material with lower environmental impact. 
  • Batteries are a great risk for the waste sector and must be disposed of separately. 

Why Recycling is Important – Conclusions

Recycling is integral to our ongoing efforts to create a more sustainable and environmentally-conscious society. It provides environmental benefits by reducing our carbon footprint, conserving our planet’s finite resources, and promoting significant economic and social advantages. 

With industries increasingly recognizing the value of recycled materials and consumers actively embracing second-hand shopping, recycling has become a significant component of the modern-day “circular economy.”

Furthermore, while the merits of recycling are universally acknowledged, it’s essential to remember the importance of proper disposal practices. Practices like mixing materials or inappropriate batteries disposal can counteract the benefits and even pose potential hazards. Therefore, staying informed about your local recycling facility’s specific requirements and norms is essential.

The challenge posed by plastic waste highlights the urgent need for not only recycling but also for broader initiatives to tackle the issue of single-use plastics. Plastic’s harmful effects on the environment and wildlife, especially microplastics, emphasize the urgency of increasing our recycling efforts.

We ask you to share your thoughts and experiences if you found this article informative. Your voice adds value to the conversation! Furthermore, please consider sharing this article to spread awareness and inspire others to prioritize recycling daily.

RenzoVet
RenzoVet

A Veterinarian who grew up in the countryside of a small Italian town and moved to live and work in the United Kingdom. I have spent most of my professional time trying to improve the quality of life of animals and the environmental and economic sustainability of farm enterprises.

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