4 Reasons You Should Recycle—and How to Start
The Environmental Protection Agency defines recycling as "the process of collecting and processing materials that would otherwise be thrown away as trash and turning them into new products." While you're probably familiar with recycling, you may not be doing it yet—in fact, the EPA estimates that only 32% of Americans currently recycle.
If you're part of the 68% of folks who don't recycle right now, that's OK. We know it can feel intimidating at first—you may not have a recycling bin or feel 100% confident about which items can (or can't) be recycled. The good news? We'll answer all of those questions here, so you can get started on making the world a greener place.
Why Is Recycling Important?
Recycling has many benefits, from reducing our environmental footprint to boosting the economy. Here's why recycling is so important for sustainability, our communities and more.
1. It Reduces Waste
Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators. The EPA estimates that, in 2018, the U.S. generated 292.4 million tons of trash—but only 69 million tons (or about 24%) of that trash was recycled. Roughly 75% of our trash could be kept out of landfills through proper recycling, which would help reduce waste in a major way.
2. It's Good for the Environment
Recycling helps to conserve natural resources such as timber, water and minerals. According to the University of Pittsburgh, it can also reduce the environmental damage and pollution caused by the mining, logging and processing of raw materials. Bonus: Processing recyclable materials generally consumes less energy than collecting, transporting and processing trash.
3. It Gives "Trash" a New Life
Recycling helps repurpose trash and other items that would normally be sent to a landfill. For example, recycled materials can be turned into common household items such as newspapers, soft drink containers, laundry detergent bottles and more.
4. It Can Help the Economy
When you think of recycling, you probably don't associate it with bolstering the U.S. economy—but it can. For starters, it helps create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries. Additionally, the U.S. recycling industry sells some of its recycled materials to generate revenue. In addition, recycling also saves money by reducing spending on landfills and cutting energy costs. It can also increase economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials.
How to Recycle
Wondering how to recycle? First, you'll need a recycling bin (like this one from Lowes, $13). Next, you'll need to find out which materials are acceptable for recycling in your area; consult your city's public works website for this information. For example, whether or not you can recycle glass and bottles can vary from city to city, so you'll want to check out your city's specific recycling policies—you can usually search online to find them (just type in "city of [wherever you live] recycling," and it will usually come up).
As a general rule, you can recycle items such as clean cans, bottles, paper and cardboard. Once you've familiarized yourself with which items can or cannot be recycled (this guide from Waste Management is helpful for breaking it down by specific items), you can get started. You'll want to keep food, liquids and plastic bags out of your recycling bin. While your recyclables don't need to be squeaky clean, removing any food waste will ensure that they don't contaminate other materials and will stay out of landfills.
The Bottom Line
Taking a little bit of time to learn about recycling (and how to do it properly) can reduce waste in a major way. Recycling doesn't just help the environment—it's also important for our communities and our country's economy. So what are you waiting for? Let's do our part to get to 100% recycling ASAP!