Why recycle? Here's why

Friday, April 11, 2008

By Barbara Woods

Guest Columnist

As Marshall County prepares to kick off its recycling program, here are the answers to a number of commonly asked questions.

What happens when something is recycled?

When something is recycled, something new is made from something that has already been used for the same or another purpose.

What can I do?

This is an easy question. Everyone can do a lot. If every household recycled everything that is recyclable, the only garbage that we would have is food-soiled kitchen papers, bathroom soiled paper items, Styrofoam, plastic, and wax-coated papers like milk or orange juice cartons.

Currently 75 per cent of what is being taken to landfills in Marshall County and in the United States can be recycled, but only 25 per cent of what can be recycled is being taken to recycling centers.

Why can't recycling be made easier?

In Lewisburg and Marshall County's new "Single Stream" recycling program everything but the kitchen and bathroom soiled papers, Styrofoam, glass, and plastic bags can be placed in the same container for recycling. Glass and paper bags can be recycled, but must be placed in separate containers to be recycled. All five of the County's Convenience Centers will accept "Single Stream" recyclables and glass and plastic bags. So you can take your trash and your recyclables in the same trip to any of the Convenience Centers. Eventually, we hope every household inside the city limits will have curbside pickup for single stream recyclables. Someday we hope it will even be feasible throughout the county.

Why is recycling being made such a big deal? How does it help ME?

The earth's scarce natural resources, minerals, trees, clean air, and water, are saved for the future.

A lot of energy is saved because it takes a lot less energy to make new items in the recycling process.

Pollution created to make energy is reduced.

Landfill space is saved for those items that must have a place to go such as used diapers, Kleenex, and food-soiled papers and Styrofoam.

Recycling can save money and create jobs.

What can be made from recyclables?

All aluminum is recyclable, including items like aluminum foil and pie pans. New aluminum cans are made from used aluminum cans everyday. Other items made from recycled aluminum include a variety of small items like key chains, bottle openers, baseball bats, automobile parts and construction materials such as flooring and siding. Aluminum lasts for 200 to 500 years in a landfill, but it's all reusable and quite valuable.

Plastic bottles, jugs, and jars (Types 1 through 7, as indicated by the number in the small triangle, usually on the bottom of a plastic item) can be made into polyester and used to make fleece jackets, school backpacks, fiber insulation for clothing, insulation for houses, cups, sun visors, toys and composite lumber. Most of our plastic bottles in this area are shipped to recycle centers and used to make carpet. Once upon a time, the wrappers and bottle tops had to be removed before recycling, but now the recycling process handles them, too. To save space, just flatten the plastic container and put it in the recycle bin. Plastics make up from 9 to twelve per cent of the volume in landfills, and take thousands of years to decompose.

Food cans which are made of steel and tin can be used to make new tin cans, automobile parts, or metals used in construction such as beams and door or window facings. Metal can be recycled over and over; it never loses its properties. Tin cans decompose in about 80 to 100 years in a landfill.

Cardboard is recycled to make more cardboard, paper bags, other paper products such as notebook covers and book covers, and cardboard tubes for paper, carpets, and fabric. Cardboard lasts for years in a landfill.

Newspaper and white paper make up 40 per cent of the waste that goes into landfills and it's all reusable. New paper products are made from used paper. Recycling paper helps to save trees. If everyone recycled the Sunday newspaper, it would save 500,000 trees each week. Newspapers have been found that are still readable after 50 years in the landfill.

Glass (which cannot be put into the "single stream" recycling bin because it breaks and contaminates the other recyclables) can be used to make new glass containers, but much of it is used in making asphalt. Glass may last forever in a landfill.

Plastic bags (which are to be recycled separately) are used to make new plastic bags, pallets, containers, crates, composite lumber, and pipe. Currently only 1 percent to 3 per cent of plastic bags are being recycled. It takes a thousand years for a plastic bag in a landfill to decompose.

Manufacturing one ton of office and computer paper with recycled paper stock can save nearly 3,000 kilowatt hours over the same ton of paper made with virgin wood products.

A ton of PET plastic containers made with recycled plastic conserves about 7,200 kilowatt hours.

A ton of drink cans made with recycled aluminum saves an amazing 21,000 kilowatt hours by reducing the virgin bauxite (bozite) ore that would have to be mined, shipped and refined. That's a 95 percent energy savings.

One recycled aluminum can save enough electricity to run a computer or TV for three hours.

Recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for four hours.

Steel is the number one recycled material in the United States and each year, steel recycling saves enough energy to electrically power the equivalent of 18 million homes for a year.

Every soft drink bottle you recycle, you save enough energy to run a TV set for an hour and a half.

So please do your part and everyone recycle!

Barbara Woods is the chairwoman of the Marshall County Recycling Committee.