Many of the businesses we work with strive to recycle as much as possible, but they struggle to understand how to quantify and/or truly measure the impact of their recycling efforts. If this is a situation you often find yourself in, you’ve come to the right place! In this post, we dive into the environmental impact of recycling and share some helpful tips to quantify the impact your business is making.
tHE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACTS OF RECYCLING
RECYCLING REDUCES LANDFILL WASTE
The EPA estimates that Americans recycle 34% of the waste they create, and landfill the remaining 66%. The amount of waste sent to landfill increases significantly each year, and that trend will continue. Sending the majority of our waste to landfill contributes to a number of negative environmental and human-health consequences. An EPA fact sheet from 2014 states that landfills contain the following materials, all of which could be recycled or composted:
- food waste: 21%
- paper and paperboard: 14%
- rubber, leather, and textiles: 10%
RECYCLING CONSERVES NATURAL RESOURCES
Manufacturing new products requires the use of virgin sources, and at our current rate of extraction and use, we are quickly running out of our six natural resources (water, air, oil, natural gas, coal and minerals). The Global Recycling Foundation noted that in 2017, we used a year's worth of these resources in only seven months. If this trend continues, we will eventually run out of these precious resources. When we dispose of products made from natural resources in landfills, they are lost forever. On the other hand, by recycling these materials, we are able to reuse them and create new products while conserving the natural resources. LessIsMore.org offers a few quantitative metrics to illustrate the positive impact recycling has on conserving natural resources:
- 1 Ton of recycled office paper saves 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, and 463 gallons of oil.
- 1 ton of recycled plastic saves 16.3 barrels of oil
- 1 ton of recycled steel saves 1.8 barrels of oil and 4 cubic yards in landfill.
RECYCLING REDUCES ENERGY CONSUMPTION
Extracting and processing natural resources to create new products requires a significant amount of energy. Using recycled materials for products, instead of new resources, results in the same end product while significantly decreasing energy consumption. The amount of energy saved by using recycled materials depends on the material:
- aluminum: 95% less energy consumption
- paper: 60% less energy consumption
- plastic and glass: 35% less energy consumption
- cardboard: 25% less energy consumption.
If you're interested in learning how much energy you can save individually, The EPA has a widget called iWARM (Individual Waste Reduction Model) that shares the amount of energy saved by recycling the following materials: aluminum cans, glass bottles, plastic bottles, magazines, and plastic grocery bags.
rECYCLING IMPACT BY Recycling STREAM
Here's a look at the impacts recycling has on the environment based on the material:ALUMINUM
- The energy saved by recycling just 1 aluminum drink can is enough to run a:
- 14 watt CFL bulb for 20 hours
- a television for 2 hours
- a computer for 3 hours
- Recycling 50 aluminum cans saves enough energy to:
- power 8.6 hours of an air conditioner
- power a hair dryer for 8.4 hours
- Recycling one ton of aluminum cans saves:
- the equivalent of 1,024 gallons of gasoline
- Every ton of mixed paper recycled saves...
- the energy equivalent of 165 gallons of gasoline
- 17 trees
- 463 gallons of oil
- three cubic yards of landfill space
- 4,000 kilowatts of energy
- 7,000 gallons of water
- Recycling one ton of cardboard saves...
- 46 gallons of oil
- 17 trees
- 7,000 gallons of water
- 390 kWh of energy
- over 9 cubic yards of landfill space
- Recycling 50 plastic bottles saves enough energy...
- to power 488.8 hours of a 60W CFL lightbulb
to power 4.2 hours of an air conditioner
to power 127.1 hours of a laptop
- One ton of recycled plastic saves...
- 98 million Btu's of energy
- 1-2 thousand gallons of gas
- One ton of recycled glass saves...
- 42 Kwh of energy
- 7.5 pounds of air pollutants from being released
- 5 gallons of oil (Stanford University).
- Recycling just one glass bottle saves enough energy...
- to operate a 100-watt light bulb for four hours
- Recycling 50 glass bottles saves enough energy...
- to power a laptop for 104.3 hours
to power 3.5 hours of an air conditioner
It's clear that environmental impact of recycling is far reaching, and each time you recycle, you're making a difference! We'd love to hear what your business does to understand your recycling impact. Leave us a comment below or reach out to us with any questions. As always, thank you for reading!