Recycling Matters More than Ever. Here's Why
More. It’s one of baby’s first words and baby’s first wants. More milk. More food. More fun. More stuff.
That primal pursuit of “more” typically grows with age. We buy. We collect. We throw away. In a state of nearly 40 million people this translates to a lot of waste. Californians send about 38 million tons of stuff to landfills each year.
Recycling reversed our direction
We used to landfill even more. Everything changed in the late 1980s when California collectively decided our children deserve a cleaner, healthier, and more sustainable future.
To lessen the impact of our throw-away culture on the environment, California passed the Beverage Container Recycling and Litter Reduction Act in 1986 and the Integrated Waste Management Act in 1989. These bold actions led to more recycling and more jobs.
Since that time:
- California’s beverage container recycling rate climbed from 52 percent in 1987 to 76 percent in 2018, keeping nearly 400 billion cans and bottles off our streets and out of our landfills and waterways.
- California reduced its landfill disposal by 15 percent, even though its population increased by 34 percent.
- California created and sustained more than 150,000 recycling jobs and a robust recycling infrastructure to help diversify local economies.
Recycling matters now more than ever
Recently cynics have tried to dismiss the value of recycling because of changes in world recycling markets. But as we survey the damage caused by our single-use throwaway culture filling our rivers and oceans with plastic, Californians realize that recycling has become more important than ever.
Many of us who grew up in the 1980s during California’s shift towards recycling now have families of our own. We want to do more for our environment and provide a healthy future for our children.
1. We recycle so our children have quality food grown with compost, not chemicals.
Organic waste makes up two-thirds of California’s disposal stream.
Food waste, green waste, and other organic material can either:
- Decompose in landfills, emitting methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide, or
- Be recycled into new products, such as renewable energy or soil-healing compost to turn depleted dirt back into nutrient rich, water retaining, agriculturally productive soil – reducing the need for chemical pesticide and fertilizer use.
Compost also adds living microbes to soil, which pull the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from the air.
2. We recycle so our children have cleaner air to breath.
Manufacturing products from recycled materials requires less energy and results in fewer GHG emissions than mining, refining, processing, and shipping raw materials to make new products, which results in less burning of fossil fuels.
We can recycle organic waste into carbon-neutral biofuel to produce electricity, fuel, or renewable natural gas, further decreasing fossil fuel use and its environmental and health costs.
3. We recycle to keep trash off our streets and out of our waterways and landfills.
In 2018, California recycled 18.5 billion plastic, glass, aluminum, and bimetal beverage containers – the second highest number in the state history. Since passing its bottle bill, Californians have reduced litter and landfilling by recycling nearly 400 billion beverage containers.
Thanks to the bottle bill, curbside recycling, and other waste reduction, reuse, and recycling efforts, California now recycles the equivalent of roughly one-third of the state’s annual landfill capacity each year, reducing the need for new or expanded garbage dumps. This means less air pollution, water pollution, land used and truck traffic.
4. We recycle because our children deserve more trees to climb.
Preventing one ton of paper waste through recycling, reuse, or non-use saves between 15 and 17 mature trees, according to the US EPA.
Producing paper from recycled pulp requires 40 percent less energy than using wood, further reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
This savings translates to 4,200 kilowatt hours, 390 gallons of oil, 60 pounds of air pollution, and 7,000 gallons of water, according to MIT.
5. We recycle to fight climate change and create a stronger economy.
When we leave our trash at the curb, it’s efficiently taken away and we never have to think about it again. But we pay an unseen price.
Trash rotting in landfills has real health and environmental impacts. Landfills are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. They add few jobs.
As the effects of climate change lead to more wildfires, severe droughts, sea level rise, floods, and temperature extremes, our trash costs us more than money.
In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, recycling and composting make good use of resources, while creating new industries and 10 times more jobs than landfilling.
Recycling gives us:
- Healthier food
- Cleaner air
- Less litter and pollution
- More air purifying trees
- Less climate changing gases
Recycling matters more than ever because our children deserve nothing less.