Manufacturing the goods that we use every day consumes a large amount of energy. Disposable items such as packaging are taken for granted, and the energy used in their production is rarely considered.
Purchasing only those items that are truly necessary, as well as reusing and recycling products wherever possible, can reduce resource use significantly. Using recycled material as the feed-stock for manufacturing consumes far less energy than manufacturing items from virgin (raw) materials.
All sources of energy have negative impacts on the environment. These impacts include global warming and acid rain caused by the combustion of fossil fuels, radiation risks from nuclear power plants, and the flooding of vast areas of land by hydro-electric dams. Recycling items such as paper, glass, plastics and metals, therefore, has multiple benefits. These are, in order of significance:
- Preservation of our non-renewable energy and materials resources,
- Less energy related environmental damage, and
- A reduction of the amount of waste sent to landfills.
(Modified from the Energy Fact Sheet, published by the Energy Educators of Ontario, 1993)
First, a few helpful terms and definitions:
- RECYCLING is making a new product out of an old one (e.g. making paper out of old newspaper instead of virgin wood fiber)
- REUSING – means simply extending the life of a product by reusing it (e.g. reusing car parts, or bringing a reusable cloth bag to the store)
- REDUCING – lowering the amount of materials we use (e.g. instead of having 15 pairs of shoes, just having 4). This is certainly the most environmental choice and the one we should strive for.
- “DOWN CYCLING” – not all products can be made into qualitatively equal products when they are recycled.” E.g. plastic bottles cannot be made into new plastic bottles, because recycled plastic is of lower quality. They have to be made into something like park-benches. This also reduces the number of times a product can be recycled. This is a particular problem with plastics and to a lesser extent true for paper and glass. Metals can be recycled dozens of times without down-cycling effects.
- MUNICIPAL SOLID WASTE – This is the garbage we usually think about when we talk about trash. It is what we, the end-users throw out. This waste is also sometimes called post-consumer waste. Although most visible, this is the smallest amount of trash we create. Much more is created in the process of mining and production:
- This invisible trail of resource consumption and waste is sometimes called the “ECOLOGICAL RUCKSACK.” (The rucksack in the cartoon contains all the mining waste and toxic waste created in making a small wedding band)
This is why it is so much more valuable to cut consumption and not just to recycle.
Recycling is good, reusing is better, and if you really want to save the world: Reduce!
How much do we waste? “In 2003, U.S. residents, businesses, and institutions produced more than 236 million tons of Municipal Solid Waste, which is approximately 4.5 pounds of waste per person per day, up from 2.7 pounds per person per day in 1960.”
Taken from: www.epa.gov/epaoswer/non-hw/muncpl/facts.htm
Total Municipal Waste Generation in 2003: 236 million tons (before recycling)
The vast percentage of ecological damage is done before a product reaches the consumer, not afterwards: For every ton of post-consumer waste there are 20 tons of hidden pre-consumer waste, as the manufacturing process makes its way from forest, field and mine to supermarket shelf.
In the USA, just four materials – paper, plastics, chemicals and metals – account for 71% of all toxic emissions.
Each ton of material that the average American consumes leaves 32 tons of waste in its trail.
An estimated 94% of the materials extracted for use in manufacturing durable products become waste before the product is even manufactured.
Only 6 per cent of minerals and renewable materials extracted each year are embodied in durable goods!
Overall, America’s material and energy efficiency is no more than 1 or 2%.
In North America, we generate more waste per person than in any other country!
The critical issue is not whether we can recycle 90% of our wastes, but whether we can reduce the tonnage needed in the first place by 90%.
Taken from “Beyond the Wasteland” by Guy Dauncey from the book Earthfuture: Stories from a Sustainable World. Read the full article below.
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