Recycling of waste materials ensures sustainability by saving raw materials and energy resources devoted to making our day to day consumables. Benefits in energy savings and environmental conservation make recycling a hot subject; however, there are some downsides as well.
Recycling is a key concept of modern times in view of continuously depleting energy resources and incessantly accumulating environmental wastes. It promises the conservation of our natural resources thus making our future cleaner and more sustainable. Although it does not replace the need to conserve natural resources by being prudent, it helps significantly to reduce the burden on earth by curbing the use of new energy and material resources.
How Recycling Works
Industries attempt to use recycling processes that demand less energy than manufacturing a new product from raw materials. Facilities called materials recovery centers also help confine costs by doing some of the work for consumers and manufacturers. Once a container of recyclable materials has been delivered to the center, either by a resident or a commercial waste hauler, the recovery center carries out the following steps:
- Sorting—non recyclable from recyclable materials and hazardous from non hazardous materials
- Separating—types of paper, plastics, glass, and metals, such as brown glass from green glass bottles
- Treatment—sending non recyclable materials to a final disposal site, such as an incinerator or a landfill
- Recovery—sending materials to a business that uses them as raw material, such as steel sent to automakers
The steps listed here usually consume less energy than the steps needed to make a product from new raw materials. For many recycled materials, the sorting, processing, and transportation use less energy than the following steps needed for making new raw materials: (1) exploration, (2) extraction, (3) transportation, (4) processing, and (5) waste treatment.
Types of Recycling
There are two types of recycling; primary and secondary. Primary recycling, also called closed-loop recycling, turns recycled materials into new products of the same type. For example, used aluminum beverage cans are recycled into new beverage cans. Secondary recycling or down cycling, on the other hand, recycles materials into new and different products. For example, used plastic milk jugs can be used for making outdoor furniture.
Neither type of recycling would succeed if the cost of recycling a material exceeds the costs of making the product out of new raw materials. Even if the difference in costs is small between a recycled product and a new product, recycling helps reducing the overall expenses by reducing the amount of waste that must be incinerated, put in a landfill, or otherwise treated.
Benefits of Recycling
Recycling supports energy conservation and environmental sustainability in a number of ways:
- Recycling enables substantial energy savings by converting wastes into resources; obviously, it takes less energy to manufacture a recycled product.
- Recycling saves precious natural resources by converting wastes into products; for example, recycled paper products facilitate conservation of trees.
- By reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and consequent carbon dioxide emissions, recycled products help combat global warming. In addition, recycling of wastes rather than landfill storage ensures fewer methane emissions.
- Recycling converts wastes that would have otherwise ended up in landfills or incinerators, into useful resources.
- Recycling reduces air, water and ground pollution; wastes stored in landfills may have toxic leakages to the environment.
- The development of the recycling industry can create new jobs; the industry requires workers for collecting recyclables and for plants that purchase and process recycling materials and convert them into final goods.
Recycling and Sustainability
The recycling of waste materials is intimately linked with the idea of sustainability. Recycling can be done by an individual at home or by a massive factory. The simple action of putting wastes into different recycling bins helps remind people of the amounts of waste they produce and might provoke them to think of ways to reduce it and make their future more sustainable.
Recycling facilitates sustainability in two primary ways. First, people conserve natural resources by recycling items that industries use as raw materials. This decreases the impact that industry puts on the environment by extracting new natural resources. Additionally, recycling lessens the amount of wastes that accumulate in our surroundings as a result of our day to day activities.
Limitations of Recycling
Recycling can save energy and money only if it meets two requirements. First, a sufficient amount of material must go into the recycling process to make recycling efficient with respect to both energy and cost. Large operations usually cost less per unit, in energy and in money, than small processes. The need for very high efficiency in order to make recycling worthwhile has caused some people to criticize curbside recycling programs.
Future of Recycling
Recycling does not promise to solve all environmental problems. To achieve sustainability, people must do more than recycle to conserve natural resources. But recycling certainly helps lessen pollution, waste, and natural resource depletion, even if it alone cannot fix these problems. Recycling technology continues to grow, and entrepreneurs have invented new uses for wastes while the recycling industry has found ways to make recycling less expensive and more streamlined.