Many of us are old enough to remember the days before recycling bins, when bottles, cans, and plastic all went into the trash, no questions asked. As a nation, we’ve come a long way since then—over 87 percent of us currently have access to curbside recycling programs—but much work remains to be done. In fact, while 75% of American waste is recyclable, only about 30% actually is.
As a practice, recycling is an incredibly important action, one that saves not only raw material, but energy as well. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on your iPod; recycling 100 cans could light your bedroom for two whole weeks! Recycling also keeps material out of landfills, and in general encourages an awareness of ones’ waste. And yet, America lags behind most of the developed world when it comes to total volume recycled.
In Belgium and Sweden, 1 percent of total trash ends up in landfills, compared with 69 percent here in the United States. And in the Netherlands and Germany, 62 percent of trash is recycled or composted, and the other 38 percent is turned into energy from waste (EfW). Stricter European laws around recycling and waste are the main reason for this. Here in the States, only 7 percent of trash ends up recycled.
A recent HUNblog article sums it up nicely:
“In most European countries, glass and paper are just some of the things the average European refuses to throw away. At most supermarkets, beaches, and other public places there are bottle banks with separate slots for clear, green, and brown glass. Europeans also recycle hard and soft plastics, as well as newspaper and cardboard. Most towns in countries throughout Europe have a free paper collection once a month and most people recycle everything made of cardboard or paper, from cereal boxes to old telephone bills. In addition, there are recycling plants or recycling centers all throughout Europe which totally facilitates and promotes their recycling effort. Green waste, such as garden trimmings, is up out on the street in a neat bundle and they are collected every two weeks. If that’s not enough, aluminum and tin cans be taken to local depots, old batteries taken to the local supermarket, and old oil or other chemicals taken to special sites.”
America’s program could be just as ambitious, but change must be centralized. Writes Matt Kasper of the Center for American Progress, “In order for the United States to begin reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills, increasing recycling rates, and generating renewable energy, a municipal-solid-waste portfolio standard must be enacted by Congress and applied nationwide in order to decrease greenhouse-gas emissions from landfills, and individual states should include EfW in current renewable-energy portfolio standards.”
A very good start, to say the least.