Australia’s population is growing. More and more are moving to the larger urban areas, creating an increasing amount of waste. Recycling offers an effective way to reduce the amount of waste being created and to protect resources for the future. The impact that recycling offers goes beyond that, however. Let’s look at why it is so important for now and the future.
Looking Toward the Future: Why Recycling Is Important
It conserves natural resources.
Think about the natural resources required to make your average car. A partial list of natural resources it requires includes iron, aluminium, crude oil, and wood. When those resources are drawn from virgin sources, the amount of energy used and pollution produced is significant. Plus, it reduces the amount available in the future.
There is no such thing as infinite natural resources. Materials experts have been sounding the alarm for many years that certain resources, like crude oil and iron ore, are limited and humans are using them at excessively high rates. Even wood, which is renewable, takes time to grow and mature. When demand outstrips the ability to grow wood fast enough, renewal becomes unsustainable.
Bringing recycled materials into the manufacturing process lowers the need for natural resources. This, in turn, conserves them for the future.
It reduces the need for landfills.
When you put a recyclable item into the rubbish bin, instead of the recycling bin, it is likely going to go into the landfill. It will be buried, along with other rubbish. Now, you might not think that is a bad thing, but the reality is it is horrible for the environment.
Rubbish buried in a landfill doesn’t just sit there doing nothing. Methane, produced by decaying natural matter, is a major pollutant that comes off of landfills. Oils, chemicals, and other volatile materials can poison the soil and the water. Landfills also take up land that could be used for other purposes.
Recycling reduces the amount of material that needs to go into a landfill. This helps reduce the need for them.
It keeps recyclable and reusable materials from being lost to a landfill.
When an aluminum can gets tossed into a landfill, that recyclable material is essentially lost. It’s like tossing a dollar down the dunny. You are throwing away something that has value, for no good reason.
Many people don’t think about the real value of an aluminium can or a glass bottle. It is just rubbish. But, its value includes the effort put into extracting the raw materials made to manufacture it. Its value also includes the cost and energy used to covert the raw materials into the finished product.
It reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
You may not make the connection between an aluminium can and greenhouse gasses. But, there is a distinct connection between the two. For example, according to the Aluminium Council, in 2011, over 15 tonnes of CO2-e was produced for every tonne of raw aluminium smelted in Australia. That amount is significantly reduced when recycled aluminium is used instead of raw.
And aluminium is not the only recyclable material where greenhouse gasses are a problem. Smelting iron ore and processing wood into paper are processes which also create large amounts of greenhouse gasses. Simply put, lowering the amount of raw materials used lowers the amount of
It reduces water pollution.
As stated before, a lot of materials placed into landfills produce contaminants which can leach into the soil and ground water. However, that is only one threat to the water that recycling can reduce.
Did you know that the paper and pulp industry uses more water than any other industry to produce their products? The water is used to break down the wood fibres and to create the pulp used to make cardboard and paper. The manufacturers add various chemicals to the water to speed up the process and to change the colour of the wood fibres. While the manufacturers are required to treat the water to minimise the amount of pollutants released, a significant amount of pollutants still flow away in waste water.
Paper is just one of the recyclable materials that uses a lot of water during production. Aluminium and steel production are two others. Adding recycled materials into the production process radically reduces the amount of waste water and pollutants released.
It creates jobs.
It takes more manpower to recycle materials than it does to cart it off to the dump. There are people who need to sort out the materials and put them into the appropriate containers. Then, the containers must be sent off to various businesses where they are turned into new materials. Those new materials are then used to produce a myriad of products. All of this work translates into jobs created by recycling.
New technologies and equipment are needed to improve the recycling and reuse process. This opens up opportunities for new businesses to grow, creating even more jobs related to recycling.
It reduces energy use.
One of the biggest producers of pollutants are energy plants that use fossil fuels. Currently, over 80% of Australia’s energy production comes directly from these traditional energy sources. So, for every kilowatt used to process raw materials, it is more than likely it is come from an air-pollutant producing fossil fuel energy plant. Reducing the amount of energy used helps reduce the pollutants released into the air by these plants.
Here is an example that shows the ability to reduce energy use through recycling. The energy used to produce a single aluminium drink container from raw materials can be used to produce 20 such containers made from recycled aluminium. That means one container made from recycled aluminium uses 5% of the energy required to produce one made from raw materials.
Reducing the amount of waste that you, your family and your business puts into the landfill has a positive impact for everyone. It will conserve natural resources, reduce landfill use, decrease energy use, lower greenhouse emissions, and keep water pollution down. It will create new jobs while bringing needed materials back into the manufacturing process.