Recycling is the process of taking a product that is at the end of its useful life and using all or part of it to manufacture another product. Recycling is very important because it reduces both waste sent to landfills and the energy that is required to make entirely new products. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 75 per cent of waste is recyclable.
Recycling began over 100 years ago when wood pulp became expensive and waste paper and rags were used to make new paper. Recycling scrap metal was introduced before World War II and glass soda bottle recycling became popular in the 1950s and 1960s. According to the National Institute of Health, in the mid 1990s, there were more 7,000 kerbside recycling programs throughout the United States that served more than 108 million people.
One important factor to consider when evaluating the cost benefits of recycling is the cost of collection, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Because recycling collection is typically done separately from trash collection, the cost associated with the service may be higher. In 1995, San Jose, California reported that it cost them £18 per ton to place waste into a landfill and £95 per ton to recycle. The difference in price can also be attributed to the fact the city hired a private company to recycle the materials instead of doing it themselves.
While collection costs might be high, recycling does save money on landfill costs. In the above example, San Jose extended the life of its landfill by four years. Collecting waste and dumping it in landfills cost about £57 per ton in the mid1990s. According to the NIH, Madison, Wisconsin (which recycles about 50 per cent of their household goods) saved more than half a million dollars in landfill charges and earned an additional £308,750 in recycled products.
Thousands of plastic water bottles end up in the trash in America's parks. For example, in 2008, Seattle's parks department proposed a program that would recycle as much as 45 tons of trash. According to the Seattle Times, each ton recycled would cost the city £1,690 but save the city £390 in financial and environmental costs.
Kerbside recycling, the most convenient way to recycle household products, now serves approximately half of the United States population. This program recycles aluminium, glass, paper, plastic, and steel. The national recycling rate of 30 per cent saves the equivalent of more than five billion gallons of gasoline, thus reducing our dependence on foreign oil by 114 million barrels each year. According to earth911.com and the EPA, in 1990 only 34 million tons of materials were diverted away from landfills and incinerators. In 2001, this figure was 68 million. Another important consideration is job creation. In particular, placing 10,000 tons of waste into landfills creates six jobs while recycling the same amount creates 36 jobs.