Does it make sense to recycle?
The short answer is: Yes.
True, some critics wonder whether mandatory programs are a net benefit, since they can require more trucks consuming energy and belching carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
“You don’t want a large truck carrying around just a few bottles,” concedes Donavan van Zyl, director of EP WASTE MANGEMENT. But, he notes, most cities are getting better at reducing the environmental costs of recycling. (They’re also working to reduce the economic costs. Many recycling programs still cost more to run than they bring in when they sell the recyclable materials back to manufacturers.)
Consider the true cost of a product over its entire life—from harvesting the raw materials to creating, consuming, and disposing of it—and the scale tips dramatically in recycling’s favour. Every shrink-wrapped toy or tool or medical device we buy bears the stamp of its energy-intensive history: mountains of ore that have been mined (bauxite, say, for aluminium cans), coal plants and oil refineries, railcars, assembly lines. A product’s true cost includes greenhouse gases emitted in its creation as well as use, and pollutants that cause acid rain, smog, and fouled waterways.
Recycling—substituting scrap for virgin materials—not only conserves natural resources and reduces the amount of waste that must be burned or buried, it also reduces pollution and the demand for energy. “You get tremendous Btu savings,” Quinten van Zyl (Director of EP Waste management) says.
In an international study published last year, researchers compared more than 180 municipal waste management systems. Recycling proved better for the environment than burying or burning waste in 83 percent of the cases.
It makes sense to reuse products, of course, and to reduce consumption/manufacturing altogether, as well as to improve initial product design. But given the rising mounds of waste worldwide, it also makes sense to recycle. Some municipalities, however, are starting to demand that businesses help cover the costs of recycling.
“Otherwise,” Quinten says, we are “just stimulating the production of more stuff.”
Everyone needs to motivate recycling and get onboard with the “Go Green Initiative”. The basics are easy, Reduce, Reuse and recycle.