Why should we recycle? It’s a question that has been around for ages, with statistics showing how few people actually do it.
But there are many reasons why you might want to take this step and convert your waste into something useful.
The following are the reasons why we should start recycling:
Owner, National Trash Valet
Everyone knows that they “should” recycle, but it’s hard to see the benefits when most recycling is done behind closed doors if it’s done at all. According to the EPA, only 8.7% of plastic products were recycled in the US in 2018.
When there is a demand, jobs follow. There is a possibility for that other 91.3% of plastic to be recycled, and that’s just plastic. If only 75% of the US’s waste was recycled instead, it could create 1.1 million jobs.
There’s always a demand for recycling
Most people don’t know how much can actually be recycled. Aluminum and plastic are the most commonly known recyclables since states, including California and Connecticut, have recycling deposits.
But you can recycle almost anything. According to CalRecycle, this includes:
- Beverage containers
- Hazardous waste
- Box Springs
- Paper materials
- Food and Yard waste
All of these products mean there are tons of untapped occupations from recycling these resources in almost every industry.
There could be new jobs in tech for recycling old computers and selling reusable parts. Or restaurants could create compost from their food scraps and sell it to nearby farmers or for personal use in home gardens.
With a bit of creativity, recycling can create new jobs for everyone.
Recycling creates more jobs
The US needs more highly paid jobs to boost economic growth, and recycling is the perfect place to start.
Manufacturers need raw materials to create any goods. Recycling is all about getting goods that have been already made back to manufacturers so they can use those goods again to make new products.
However, this process is no easy task. In every step of the process, a different job is needed.
For example, you have to pay a truck driver to drive to houses to pick up recycled goods. This could be a city job if a town provides recycling cans for weekly to monthly pick-up.
These goods are then taken to materials recovery facilities, where a whole other crew of workers sorts the materials and gets them ready to be processed for manufacturers.
There are also recycling centers where people can drop off their recycled materials. For these jobs, you need to have staff welcoming people and telling them where to drop off each type of recycled good.
Then, you need staff that can handle the money and pays people what they are owed for the goods they bring. You need staff to sort the goods and do any necessary cleaning to ensure the product can be reused.
And those are just the larger-scale jobs. Recycling can also build smaller jobs in the community. For example, teenagers could start their own bottle and cans collection for their neighborhood.
They could collect recyclable items from the houses on their block and then take them to the recycling plant for them if a town doesn’t have a recycling program.
What certifications are required for recycling jobs?
The certifications required to work in recycling vary. However, there is something available for any education level. For example, sorters in a recycling facility typically don’t even need a high school diploma or GED.
However, other jobs require you to at least have a Bachelor’s Degree.
There are companies that sell recycled products back to manufacturers, so they hire sales representatives to do so. These representatives need excellent communications skills and usually have degrees in sales, business, or marketing.
Plus, to work in sales in the recycling industry, people often have experience in waste management.
Jobs in the recycling industry
Recycling can create tons of jobs in our communities on all different scales. There can be small-scale recycling jobs, like artists who use recycled material in their work, or large-scale jobs, like a recycling plant that hires drivers, laborers, managers, etc.
There are tons of different careers and types of jobs to explore in the recycling industry. Check out this list below to figure out what career might be great for you or your community.
- Route manager:
- Map out the best route for recycling collection trucks. While some only need their GED, many route managers have a background in transportation.
- Recycling plant worker:
- Work as a sorter, forklift operator, clamp operator, or janitorial. You can expect 8-10 hour shifts, and depending on where you live, pay up to $17/hour.
- Companies like Goodwill recycle by buying people’s second-hand goods and selling them. You can work in retail as a sales associate at Goodwill and get paid $10.80 an hour on average.
- Valet trash and recycling:
- Service valets walk an apartment complex and take down their trash and recycling items from their door and adequately dispose of them in their correct dumpster.
- Various job levels, with starting pay around $20/hour for picking up the items, all the way up to Regional Manager positions paying between $45,000 to $55,000 per year.
- Mechanics and maintenance workers:
- Operate and maintain the machinery at recycling plants. They make any fixes as needed and usually keep detailed notes of all work in a log.
- They typically have a year of education past a GED, usually at a trade school, and get paid about $38-47k a year.
- MRF Managers:
- Oversee material recovery facilities, recycling plants, and other recycling facilities to ensure everything is operating safely and efficiently.
- These jobs require an MBA or a master’s in industrial engineering. These jobs pay well, on average, 90k.
Recycle and create more jobs for your community.
It’s tempting to dismiss recycling as unimportant. However, there’s a vast unmet demand for recycling. By recycling more materials, there will be more jobs created in our communities.
This leads to desperately needed economic growth and will keep our planet green for future generations.
Marketing Manager, Action Junk Hauling
It reduces the need to grow, harvest, and exploit natural resources
Recycling materials like paper, metals, stone, glass, rubber, and plastic takes a huge burden away from our landfills while creating a host of environmental, economic, and social advantages.
At Action Junk Hauling, we’re doing our best to contribute to these efforts. Over the past several decades, Americans have made considerable strides in recycling efforts.
However, a report produced by The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimated that, while 75% of American waste is recyclable, we’re only recycling about 30% of the materials we use.
Needless to say, there’s room for improvement.
Recycling reduces the need to grow, harvest, and mine the finite natural resources our planet provides. In fact, it takes less energy and resources to repurpose these materials than it does to create them from scratch.
For example, creating new aluminum products from recycled materials uses 95% less energy than producing them in a smelting plant, and similarly, repurposing steel results in 70% energy savings.
The majority of metals can be repeatedly recycled while maintaining their properties and reducing the need for harmful mining projects.
Keeping usable materials out of landfills
Reprocessing plastics saves wildlife and reduces the need for increased production. By reducing the energy used to create these products, fewer carbon emissions are released into the atmosphere around the world.
Keeping these materials out of landfills where they are inevitably burned also reduces methane levels in the atmosphere.
From a social perspective, recycling helps keep members of impoverished communities from being displaced while simultaneously keeping disadvantaged individuals safe.
Many of the world’s landfills are placed near these communities, exposing them to the toxins released as waste is burned. While much of the world’s metals are mined by exploiting disadvantaged individuals (even children) who do this dangerous work for very little pay.
Economically, recycling contributes far more to the world’s economy than landfill usage. It stimulates the economy by creating jobs in both the recycling and manufacturing industries.
Major non-profits like Eco-Cycle believe that increasing the U.S. recycling rate to 75% by 2030 will create 1.1 million new jobs.
Another 2016 study concluded that recycling created $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenue. At the same time, recycling reduces waste collection costs in municipalities like Lambeth, London, by up to six times.
The economic benefits of recycling extend to homeowners and companies that visit landfills and recycling centers on a daily basis, such as ourselves.
We actively recycle as much as possible, not only because it’s the best environmental choice but also due to the considerable amount of money we save as a Seattle junk removal company.
Each time we visit a landfill, we’re charged hefty dump fees (often by the pound). Not only are these visits wasteful, but they also increase our business costs significantly.
This is why we maintain a recycling-first business model.
When we collect a customer’s junk, we recycle everything we possibly can before visiting a landfill with whatever can’t be recycled.
In doing so, we’re able to pass these cost savings on to our customers with the additional benefit of being environmentally responsible, keeping communities safe, and contributing to the creation of new jobs.
With so many benefits, recycling simply makes sense.
Content Creator and Founder, Conscious Life & Style
Textile recycling to reduce textile waste
While often left out of the recycling conversation, textile recycling is an important part of a circular economy. According to the EPA, 11.3 million tons of textiles were landfilled in 2018, making up nearly 8% of all municipal solid waste in the U.S.
Overall, less than 15% of textiles were recycled in 2018, and the recycling rate for clothing textiles and footwear was slightly lower at 13%.
Even this small percentage of recycled textiles is actually just down-cycling to lower value items, such as insulation or wiping cloths.
If we look at textile-to-textile recycling, that number plummets — less than 1% of the materials of old clothes are recycled into new clothing, according to Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s A New Textiles Economy Report.
The benefits of reusing clothes
But there are so many benefits to keeping our clothes longer and recycling our clothes. For one, that same report found that consumers are losing out on about $460 billion of value by prematurely discarding their clothing.
Instead of throwing away unwanted clothes, we can extend their lives by:
- repairing them,
- upcycling them, or
- reselling them
We can sell these garments through an online secondhand marketplace like Poshmark or Depop, sell to a local consignment store, or swap our unwanted clothes with friends (or through a clothes swapping platform like Swap Society).
And, of course, there are many environmental benefits to reusing existing clothes and textiles. The textiles industry uses nearly 100 million tonnes of non-renewable resources each year and textile production emits an estimated 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually. That’s a massive carbon footprint.
While there has been significant progress in textile-to-textile recycling infrastructure, it’s not yet sufficient to address the amount of textile waste generated (which is why buying less clothing is the first step to a circular fashion economy!).
That said, we can still ‘recycle’ or repurpose our existing clothing by reselling it — and building demand for clothing ‘recycling’ by shopping secondhand.
Buying a used garment instead of a new one displaces 17.4 lbs of CO2 emissions and reduces its carbon footprint by 82% according to ThredUP’s 2021 Resale Report.
Responsible recycling and reuse systems are essential.
Also worth noting is that many clothing donations and global textile recycling programs lack transparency.
Much of this clothing can end up in communities in the Global South, damaging local textile industries, overwhelming waste infrastructure, and creating an environmental catastrophe.
In other words, sometimes what’s marketed as ‘textile recycling’ is actually just dumping our clothing waste in someone else’s backyard. This is, of course, not the answer to addressing textile waste.
So, it’s important to advocate for proper clothing and textiles recycling that recovers the value of these worn clothes, keeps them out of the landfill, and also helps prevent new textiles from having to be produced.
Sustainability Manager, City of Coral Springs, Florida
It not only helps the earth, but it can also save money in the long run
The main pillars of sustainability are people, the planet, and prosperity. These same ideals are paramount when we talk about recycling.
Reasons why recycling is important:
When citizens recycle right, it empowers them to be better keepers of the planet. Communities can get creative with their recycling initiatives.
For example, creating a youth recycled art contest is an ingenious way to encourage kids to recycle while also unleashing their creative spirit. When children learn the importance of recycling at a young age, it’s more likely that they will build and practice good recycling habits for a lifetime.
Those who are passionate about recycling and environmentalism can also take it up a notch by volunteering for local environmental initiatives.
Starting and maintaining a community garden is a great group project for volunteers who want to make an impact in their community.
The garden can include:
- native flowers, and
- native plants
Adding composting is an extra component that can provide use for unwanted food scrap and yard waste.
Recycling something as simple as a plastic bottle or a cardboard box might seem small, but it can have a big impact when done correctly.
Recycling is also something that isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach.
Cities and towns that have implemented community-wide recycling programs can educate and incentivize citizens to reduce recycling contamination and recycle right.
When people join forces for a common cause, each individual’s actions can add up to have a positive impact on the planet.
Communities come together every April in honor of Earth Day and Earth Month to raise awareness and take action to protect our planet.
No matter where you live, nearly all cities and towns hold Earth Day events like park clean-ups, environmental festivals, and more. We encourage people of all ages to take part in these events and take advantage to learn more about their local recycling and sustainability efforts.
Recycling not only benefits the planet, but it can also save money long term. Encouraging green building for new construction projects is one large-scale way to lessen the impact on the planet and on wallets.
Following green building standards such as LEED, FGBC, and Green Globes can reduce energy consumption and our reliance on fossil fuels.
Citizens can encourage their local municipalities to follow sustainable building practices like:
- sustainable site planning,
- energy and water efficiency,
- use of recycling building materials,
- indoor environmental air quality,
- and more
Environmental Education Specialist, Westgate Community School
To reduce demand for new non-renewable resources
Caring for the environment can feel daunting. Glaciers are melting, animals are losing their habitats, and wildfires are becoming all too common. Our community had another evacuation just two days ago, and an off-season fire still burns hot through our weekly hiking trails in Boulder.
If it feels daunting, you are not alone. It is daunting.
Caring for the environment is a big job. Our planet is a big planet. Despite our small human stature, there are ways to “do the next right thing,” to take the next small step.
There are lots of ways to make an impact at an individual level, and recycling is one of them. In the days of Jack Johnson’s original “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle,” recycling seemed more powerful.
Still, as climate change has become more evident and seemingly less escapable in the last five years, recycling may have lost its shine.
Recycling is, at its core, a fundamental human action that communicates a commitment to learning and change, an understanding of sustainability, and a larger empathetic step toward environmental care.
When you recycle, you create less demand for new non-renewable resources. This can, in turn, have an impact on climate change if we require fewer non-renewable resources to be used to make new products.
To model awareness of sustainable resources against waste
When you recycle, you model awareness of sustainable resources versus waste.
Have you ever been to a restaurant and stood at the trash cans, wondering what is going to end up in the landfill and what has the potential to become something new?
When you stand there, do your kids watch you? Do they follow your lead?
When you recycle, you commit to awareness and knowledge. When you recycle, you become a part of the solution.
Founder, Kevin Nguyen Experiences
Recycling encourages long-term trash reduction and reuse
Recycling drives conversation toward more practical long-term solutions to waste: reduce and reuse.
Recycling has been a marketing strategy by plastic producers to shift the blame for plastic waste onto the consumer like you and me.
“Save the environment by properly disposing of your trash in the right bins!”
Even though we recycle, overall, plastic pollution is still a huge problem around the world. A great example would be the giant masses of plastic buildup in the North Pacific Ocean and various other oceans that are growing every passing minute.
Local recycling facilities are unable to deal with the intake of recyclables and are forced to divert them to landfills.
So, why does it matter to recycle when most of it eventually ends up in landfills?
It matters because it provides us a chance to educate and start an open dialogue on how to recycle properly and then ease into other topics, like reducing and reusing, that are much more sustainable and practical for dealing with long-term waste solutions.
By having this open dialogue on recycling, we can teach others how they can tackle the problem at its source by reducing and reusing the amount of single-use plastics and other waste we utilize on a daily basis.
These kinds of open dialogue and education are great conversation triggers for social change and small steps toward the overall reduction of waste. We are recycling properly, but there are still problems? How about the city enact bans on single-use plastics?
We see this slowly happening in many places around the world. For example, Taiwan, a place notorious for using tons of single-use plastics in its hundreds of night markets everyday, has started an initiative to phase out and ban all single-use plastics by 2030.
The United Nations has documented that over 127 countries now have specific legislation and laws concerning plastic bags.
Small steps like these and having the right conversations with your friends, family, and right up to the United Nations is why recycling is still an important step towards the overall war of reducing waste around the world.
The next time you’re in a situation where you’re dealing with wasteful plastics, think about how you can reapproach the situation with a reduce and reuse mindset in the future.
Business Owner, Emerging Green
Most people who do not recycle are unaware of the impact recycling has.
These are the top three reasons for recycling:
Conserve landfill space and energy
Burying garbage requires space and tons of it. The next alternative is to burn them in incineration plants. This, however, leads to high energy consumption and air pollution.
By recycling, it reduces the amount of waste to be handled.
A good example can be found in the case of Stanford.
Conserving natural resources for future generations
Our rate of consumption has been fueled by the twin energy of global population growth and materialism. If you are to compare the global energy consumption from 1950 to 2019, it has grown by six times.
Meanwhile, our society has embraced consumerism as a badge of success.
There is no way we can alter this behavior since this trend started prior to WWII. We, however, have a way to mitigate the strain it has on limited natural resources, thereby ensuring sufficient resources for our future generation.
Recycling is easy
Most people think that recycling is a major hassle, but it’s not.
Recycling can be as simple as collecting and returning glass bottles and aluminum cans—buying writing material made of recycled paper. Emerging Green notebooks are made of recycled paper, and FSC certified.
Stop the usage of paper cups for coffee; use a travel mug instead.
Founder, Parenting Pod
To me, recycling is a basic necessity that everybody should contribute to, as it is the easiest way to ensure that we produce less waste and help preserve the natural environment of our planet.
Not to mention that recycling is often quite simple.
But here are some of my main reasons for recycling:
It reduces the amount of waste
The more we recycle, the less waste we produce, which usually gets dumped in a landfill somewhere, taking up valuable space and destroying the natural habitat.
The idea of the world slowly filling up with waste is a horrible one to me, and so I fully support giving our waste a second life through recycling. And they can do all sorts with recycled materials now.
It reduces the amount of material needed
If materials are recycled, they can keep on being used, which reduces the need to use more raw materials, which usually means taking from our planet’s natural sources.
We can’t keep taking this much and expecting the world not to suffer the consequences, and since we have taken so much already, why not simply re-use what we have? It seems pretty logical to me.
It helps the environment
There is no doubt that recycling contributes to the environment’s health, and I find that it is vital to protect our home planet and keep it as clean and as green as possible. Not only for us but for all the life on Earth.
What’s more, I feel as though it is our responsibility as humans since we are the ones causing an imbalance in natural resources.
For the children to have a happy future
My last reason for recycling is perhaps the strongest: for my children.
The more the environment suffers, the worse the consequences will become, and it will be my children that are left with those consequences and problems, not me or my generation.
I want my kids to have a happy future in which the world continues to thrive, so I want to make sure to do as much as possible to leave the world as good a place as possible. I’m sure most parents agree with this sentiment.
Founder, The Best Travel Gifts
It’s better for the environment
One of the main reasons to start recycling is because it is better for the environment. The products we use are not limitless. They are made from materials that have a limit, and they are made in factories that produce waste, toxins, and other forms of air pollution.
There are three key benefits for the environment if we all recycle more.
Recycling reduces waste
The waste we produce needs to go somewhere, and something needs to be done with it. But the more waste we produce, the more waste is accumulated. And this is a problem across the globe.
Spaces for landfills fill up, while waste keeps accumulating with no place to go. And waste that has no place to go is often burned, which leads us to the next benefit of recycling.
Recycling reduces air pollution
A lot of air gets polluted from waste that’s burned, from factories that produce disposable items, and from decomposition in landfills.
So by recycling, we reduce the amount of waste we produce, and by doing that, we also reduce the amount of air that is polluted in these processes.
Reduces pressure on already limited natural resources
Many of the items we use on a daily basis are made from natural resources, such as paper, furniture, clothing, and electronic devices.
We simply can’t continue using these items without recycling. At some point, we will run out, and the earth can no longer produce the items at the rate that we dispose of them.
So buying recycling paper, wood, textiles, or electronics takes off the pressure on the plantations that produce the raw material for our goods.
So think of it in this way.
Every item that you use an item more than once equals:
- one item less in the trash,
- one item less in the landfill,
- one item less to be decomposed,
- one item less to be produced by a factory, and
- one item less to be shipped
CEO, Yosun UV Printer
Water contamination is reduced
Reduced groundwater contamination is one of the benefits of recycling. There is a large amount of garbage that is not biodegradable or environmentally friendly that ends up in landfills.
Toxins emitted by garbage are slowly seeping into the groundwater table, making it unfit for human consumption.
In addition, ponds, rivers, and other water sources are contaminated when rain and other runoff water flow through landfills. Contaminants are kept out of water systems by recycling things like batteries and other e-waste components.
Natural resources are conserved
It takes a lot of nonrenewable energy to produce things from raw resources. However, less energy is used when new objects are made from recycled materials. In the production of commodities, energy is conserved through recycling plastic, glass, and aluminum.
Recycled materials save water, energy, and pollution in the manufacturing process.
By reusing and recycling, we can protect our planet’s natural resources and mitigate the effects of biodiversity loss. Because we can reuse paper and plastic, we are saving forests and reducing our reliance on petroleum for the production of new plastics.
Utilizing recycled materials lessens our dependence on extracting raw materials from the earth, which saves precious fossil fuels and nonrenewable natural resources.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the most important things to recycle?
Recycling plays a crucial role in reducing waste and preserving natural resources. Key items to recycle include:
• Aluminum cans: Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy required to produce aluminum from raw materials.
• Steel and tin cans: These are commonly used for packaging food and beverages and are 100% recyclable.
• Plastic bottles and containers: Plastic is a valuable resource that can be recycled into new products, such as polyester fabric, carpets, and new plastic containers.
• Paper and cardboard: These materials are made from trees, which are finite resources. Recycling paper and cardboard conserves natural resources, saves energy, and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
What can be recycled?
Many common household items can be recycled, including:
• Paper products (e.g., newspapers, magazines, cardboard boxes, and paper bags)
• Glass bottles and jars
• Aluminum cans and foil
• Steel and tin cans
• Plastic containers, bottles, and bags
• Electronics such as computers, televisions, and cell phones
• Light bulbs
• Textiles (e.g., clothing, linens, and towels)
• Yard waste (e.g., leaves and grass clippings)
Note that the items that can be recycled may vary depending on local recycling programs and facilities. It’s always best to check with your local recycling center for their specific guidelines.
How can I recycle correctly?
Knowing how to recycle your waste correctly can help you ensure that your recycling efforts are effective and that recyclables are processed in a way that conserves resources and protects the environment.
Here are some tips to get you started:
• Check your local recycling guidelines: Recycling programs vary from place to place, so knowing what can and cannot be recycled in your area is important.
• Rinse and clean your recyclables: Before you put recyclables in your bin, make sure they’re clean and free of food residue. This helps to prevent the contamination of other materials in the recycling stream.
• Avoid bagging your recyclables: Some recycling programs don’t accept bagged recyclables. Instead, place recyclables loose in your bin to allow them to be easily sorted.
• Remove caps and lids: Caps and lids can often be made of a different type of plastic and should be removed and recycled separately.
• Avoid recycling items that are contaminated: Food-stained paper, greasy pizza boxes, and other items that are contaminated with food or other substances cannot be recycled and should be thrown away.
• Be aware of e-waste: Electronic waste, or e-waste, such as old computers, televisions, and cell phones, should not be thrown in the regular trash and should be recycled through an e-waste recycling program.
• Compost organic waste: Food and yard waste can be composted instead of sent to a landfill, where they produce methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
What happens to recyclables after they are collected?
Once recyclables are collected, they are transported to a processing facility, where they undergo a series of steps to be prepared for remanufacturing into new products. Here is a general overview of the process:
• Sorting: Recyclables are sorted by type and separated into different categories, such as paper, plastic, metal, and glass. This is typically done by hand or with the help of machines.
• Baling: The sorted recyclables are compacted into large bales using a baling machine. This makes it easier to transport and store the material.
• Cleaning: Contaminants, such as food residue and non-recyclable items, are removed from the recyclables.
• Shredding and grinding: Some recyclables, like paper and plastic, are shredded or ground into smaller pieces to make it easier to remanufacture them into new products.
• Melting and remanufacturing: The processed recyclables are melted down and remanufactured into new products, such as plastic pellets, which can be used to make new plastic products.
Can recycling actually save money?
Yes, recycling can save money in many ways. By recycling waste materials, communities, and businesses can reduce the costs associated with waste disposal and lower the need to extract raw materials for production.
However, the cost savings from recycling can vary depending on many factors, such as the materials being recycled, the local market conditions, and the efficiency of the recycling process. Some recycling programs may require significant upfront investments in equipment and infrastructure, which can offset the cost savings in the short term.
Nevertheless, many communities and businesses have found that recycling can be a cost-effective way to reduce waste and conserve resources over the long term.
What are some common misconceptions about recycling?
It is important to educate ourselves and others about the realities of recycling to ensure that our efforts are effective and positively impact the environment. Here are many misconceptions about recycling, but here are some of the most common ones:
• Recycling everything is always good: Not all materials are recyclable, and some can actually harm the recycling process. For example, certain items such as food-contaminated paper, plastic bags, and syringes can damage or contaminate recycling equipment.
• Recycling reduces waste: While recycling can help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, it is not a solution to the waste problem. The best way to reduce waste is to minimize the amount of materials we use and produce in the first place.
• Everything placed in a recycling bin gets recycled: Just because you put an item in a recycling bin does not mean it will get recycled. The items must be clean and free of contaminants and must also be accepted by local recycling programs.
• Recycling is the same everywhere: Recycling practices and what is accepted for recycling vary greatly from one community to another. It is important to check with your local recycling program to find out what materials are accepted for recycling.
• Plastic can be recycled infinitely: Most plastic can only be recycled a few times before it becomes too degraded to be recycled again. It is important to reduce plastic use as much as possible and to recycle plastic properly.
• Recycling is always profitable: Recycling can be expensive due to the costs of collecting, sorting, and processing materials. In some cases, the cost of recycling can exceed the value of the recycled material.
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