Celebrated annually on November 15, America Recycles Day, also known as National Recycling Day, is a national day of observance dedicated to promoting the importance of recycling and rethinking how we use materials. To ensure the planet can sustainably support our standard of living, its resources must be used sparingly. That includes the extracting of materials to make products.
Every year, millions of tons of materials are processed into consumer goods. After these good are disposed, they are “lost” for decades to centuries, depending on the material, meaning they have not decomposed and been able to again be extracted and made into other products.
Ultimately it is important to try to refuse packaging when possible, or at least reduce the use of materials that do not quickly decompose. If materials are not created no energy has been used and the material is preserved for future use. When we need materials, the next step is to reuse those items we create to avoid them being a limited single use product with very little benefit. After reuse, recycling comes into play as an additional intermediate step for materials to be beneficial before they become waste.
How to Recycle
Recycling isn’t necessarily a new idea for being energy conscious, but it’s important to remember just how useful and easy it actually is. Energy Saver explores a myriad of different energy saving tips every day on this blog, and this is just another you can really reuse in your daily lives.
Many municipalities make recycling easy by offering curbside pickup for recycled materials. In some of these cases the consumer is asked to separate different types of recyclable materials into different bins or containers. In other cases, refuse companies have single stream recycling, meaning recyclable products do not have to be separated by the consumer, but still must be in separate containers from waste headed for the landfill. In either case, it may help to have 2 containers in your kitchen – one for waste and one for recycle. Another option is to have a third container for compostable products for use in an outside composter for use in the garden so they are put to good use making rich soil rather than rotting in a landfill somewhere.
If your local municipality or home owners association does not offer curbside recycling service it is easy to take your recyclable products to a recycle center. Recycle centers are rightfully very conscientious about properly separating products. So if you have any questions it is best to ask the attendant where to place your types of recyclable products.
What Does Recycling Have to do With Energy?
As a rule, it takes far less energy to produce products from recycled materials than it does to make the same amount of products from virgin materials. The amount of energy saved through recycling partially depends upon the material being recycled.
Some virgin recyclable materials like fly ash, aluminum, and steel have large production costs compared to their recycle costs, and therefore benefit the greatest from recycling. For instance, recycling aluminum cans saves as much as 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source, bauxite. Similarly, it has been estimated that new steel produced with recycled cans reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 75%. Materials with lower recycling costs, such as lumber, still have large benefits over production from virgin material. As an example, it takes 40 percent less energy to make paper from recycled paper than it does to make paper from fresh lumber.
The recycling process can be further maximized when materials are recycled back into their original form and purpose, followed by instances where materials are recycled into a different kind of product, and then when parts of the materials are used to make an entirely different product. This is partially why identifying and separating material types for recycling, both by the consumer and the recycler, is important.
A consistent, uniform coding system has been developed to help identify recyclable materials. Be mindful the codes in other countries may be different. Also keep in mind that having a recycling code or the universal chasing arrows logo on a material is an explanation of what the material is, not an automatic indicator that a material is recyclable.
The recycling code for plastics was introduced in 1988 by the plastics industry through the Society of the Plastics Industry. Because municipal recycling programs traditionally have targeted packaging—primarily bottles and containers—the resin coding system offered a means of identifying the resin content of bottles and containers commonly found in residential plastic waste. Plastic products are printed with numbers 1–7 depending on the type of resin.
• Type 1 (polyethylene terephthalate) is commonly found in soft drink and water bottles.
• Type 2 (high-density polyethylene) is found in most hard plastics such as milk jugs, laundry detergent bottles, and some dishware.
• Type 3 (polyvinyl chloride) includes items such as shower curtains, hula hoops, credit cards, medical equipment, siding, and piping.
• Type 4 (low-density polyethylene) is found in shopping bags, squeezable bottles, tote bags, clothing, furniture, and carpet.
• Type 5 is polypropylene and makes up syrup bottles, straws, food storage, and some automotive parts.
• Type 6 is polystyrene and makes up meat trays, egg cartons, clamshell containers, and compact disc cases.
• Type 7 includes all other plastics such as bulletproof materials, cell phone and tablet frames, safety goggles and sunglasses.
Types 1 and 2 are the most commonly recycled plastics.
Recycling plastic is very important because it’s production is very energy intensive, it is among the highest used materials in the consumer market, and it takes an extremely long time to degrade as waste.
Most glass food and beverage containers can be recycled. However, other kinds of glass, like windows, ovenware, Pyrex, and crystal are manufactured through a different process and cannot be recycled. There are three types of glass recycling codes:
• Mixed Glass (GL-70)
• Clear Glass (GL-71)
• Green Glass (GL-72)
Be sure to rinse out all glass items before sending them to recycle!
Most paper products can be recycled. However, dirty or greasy paper, along with laminated paper, cannot be recycled. There are three types of paper recycling codes:
• Cardboard (PAP-20)
• Mixed Paper (PAP-21)
• Plain Paper (PAP-22)
To help with recycling, print out our Consumers Guide to Recycling Codes and put it up in your kitchen or near your recycling bins for easy reference. Better yet, snap a photo of it if you want to be extra green! Just taking small actions with recycling is a way to truly give back to the earth and support clean energy consciousness through good habits.
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