The dilemma surrounding recycling has been in existence since the beginning of development. Early concerns that led to recycling as a waste disposal option were the ever increasing numbers of landfills.
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This generated the need for a better technique to reduce the number of landfills and the dangers associated with landfills such as toxins escaping into water and others into air causing contamination and creation of greenhouse effect. The next best alternative was to recycle the wastes such as plastics and glass where both items contributed to a great extent to the substances responsible for filling up landfills since they either took longer durations to decompose or did not decompose at all.
Recycling made it easier for people to feel good about their attempts at saving the environment from toxins and the ever increasing landfills. However, they did not think critically about the whole process associated with recycling, the principle they used was that of out of sight therefore out of mind forgetting the fact that solving one issue does not help solve an issue related to this; sometimes it worsens another situation if not considered from a broader perspective.
This is exactly what recycling does. It shoulders the disadvantages of landfills and try’s to compensate them by claiming that energy is saved and fewer items are deposited into landfills but looking at the broader perspective reveals that recycling has little or no changes when environmental degradation is considered.
In fact there is almost no difference to effects on the environment by using recyclables and using virgin resins. For example, when recycling of plastics is well thought-out, the apparent effect is that there would be less plastics being deposited into landfills therefore less toxins emitted from landfills.
Conversely, the environmental effect of converting polymers to monomers and back to polymers has negative thermodynamic influence on the environment much as landfills have a negative influence. This brings us to the conclusion that recycling is not as beneficial as it was once thought to be. Recycling is as environmental degrading as the production of non-recycled products has a negative influence on the environment.
The essay intends to focus on the rationale behind those who support recycling and those who don’t and finally reaching a consensus as to what can be done in order to maximize waste disposal without inflicting negative results to the environment which acts as the incubator through which life is supported; everyone can attest to the fact that an inhabitable environment can result to death and extinction of each living organism including humans, it’s therefore up to us to ensure that the environment is fit for our survival.
Recycling refers to the process of reusing materials and products that would otherwise have been thrown away in the various landfills or burnt in incinerators. Landfills are areas which have been designated to act as disposal sites where solid wastes which include substances for instance papers, disposable glasses and metal collected from industries and homes otherwise known as municipal solid waste are dumped into large holes dug into the ground.
Landfills are designed to reduce land contamination by toxins which are emitted by decaying substances from the mixture of rubbish that people dispose from their homes. There are toxins which emanate from these landfills which consist of methane emissions produced from the decomposition of organic substances present in the landfills. There is also the risk of landfill leachate referring to a liquid substance that is formed during the decomposition of organic substances. The leachate has a tendency of settling at the bottom of these landfills.
The methane emissions contaminate the surrounding atmosphere resulting to formation of acid rain and the landfill leachate has a high probability of contaminating the water systems if they manage to escape from the ground. Contamination refers to the existence of minor materials that are apparently unwanted in the natural environment.
One of the arguments used by recycling supporters is that the government takes full responsibility of the funding of recycling activities. “Government supports lots of services that the free market wouldn’t provide, such as the delivery of running water, electricity, and mail to our homes” (Cozic 26).
They say that recycling does not exist in the free market but instead it functions within the normal market economy and it does so successively. They argue that if the recycling industry was existing in a free market then the subsidies that are granted by government which favor activities related with the use of virgin materials as well as the maintenance of landfills would not exist. From their point of view the subsidies made by the government to these activities makes them equal.
For recycling supporters, there is little and reduced air pollution while recycling as compared with using virgin products.” By decreasing the need to extract and process virgin materials, recycling helps reduce or eliminate the pollution associated with material extraction and processing.”(Howell 147).
They also argue that large amounts of energy is saved during the recycling process as compared to the large amounts of energy that lead to depletion of natural resources such as crude oil during the production of products utilizing virgin materials.
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In a research carried out, estimation as to the amount of green house gasses that would be reduced from being emitted into the atmosphere was in tones of about 48 million which can be compared to the emissions from 36 million vehicles. Therefore, according to their arguments recycling greatly reduces pollution of water and air by a greater percentage thus making it both an economical and environmental conducive method of production.
According to the proponents of recycling, the landfill crisis is greatly averted by utilizing the process of recycling as opposed to dumping huge amounts of waste.”Landfills and incinerators can be major sources of pollution. For example, leachate from solid waste landfills is similar in composition to that of hazardous waste landfills.” (Heimlich 6).
In their opinion, the emission of methane as a toxic waste from landfills and other toxic gasses that are emitted from incinerators during burning of waste is significantly reduced while recycling. They are fully aware of the fact that most landfills are almost reaching their maximum capacity and the amount of money used to transport and dump waste in the landfills has been increasing over the years. Recycling therefore opens an avenue through which costs associated with landfills can be reduced.
Promoters of recycling have the notion that there is a wide and expansive market for their finished products. According to them “Demand for recycled materials has never been greater. American manufacturers rely on recyclables to produce many of the products on your store shelves.” (Boustead 29).
In their analysis of the future market, they estimated that by the time the year 2005 approaches, there would be more than $ 5billion materials that would be collected by manufacturers of recycled products per annum. This implies that production of recycled products would be produced in larger quantities and that the manufacturers of recycled products have been producing recycled products in large scale over the years.
An assumption made by these proponents is that most of the American citizens are more than willing to participate in the activity which they support by the active curbside programs and other drop-off centers that act as sites for the wholesome collection of products to be used in recycling. “More than 20,000 curbside programs and drop-off centers for recycling are active today because Americans use and support them.” (Oskamp 163).
On the other hand there are people who are against the recycling programs. From their point of view recycling does little in reducing the amount of non-biodegradable wastes and the emission of toxic gasses into the atmosphere. In as much as the government takes responsibility of providing the necessary materials in recycling companies, the consumer who is the tax payer suffers a great deal.
The claim that it is cheaper to produce recycled materials since the government provides subsidies is an opposition for most of the tax payers. According to the tax payers “Most of us pay in one way or another for the garbage to be removed from our homes. Waste management including recycling is a service, not a right.” (Netzley 38).
The fees collected in order to collect this refuse is the same amount that is assigned to the production of these recycled goods thus the cheap price of the commodities is substituted by these fees and charges together with the amount of fuel burnt by consumers to deposit these materials that are potential raw materials at their respective collection points.
In addition to this, the employees of these recycle companies are paid by money accumulated from tax payers. The overall result of the low-price of the commodity is cancelled by these expenses.
At the same time the fumes emitted by recycling company’s equals the amount of poisonous gases emitted in the manufacture of products using virgin substances. This is by addition of both the fumes produced at these industries and those produced by the tracks while ferrying the wastes.
At the same time consumers of products incur large energy costs while transporting the items to be recycled. The first energy costs are incurred in picking the wastes and conveying them to the centers regulated for recycling. The costs and energy consumed are aggravated if there are different centers for the different categories of items.
For instance, plastic items may have a different collection center from that of glass and other items such as metals and paper. Other centers are situated miles away from each other and there is a lot of energy utilized to transport the items. Also, during processing, after separation at the plants, a variety of tracks are used to ship different raw products to the various plants.
Numerous resources are also used in the recycling industry which emits poisonous fumes “creating recycled materials consumes massive amounts of other resources – oil, gas, coal, etc. When we create plastics” (Howell 156).
Combining the overall effect of all this transportation from one cite to another, there are massive emission of gases and the cost of energy incurred during the transportation and recycling of these supplies is quite high such that the emissions produced in companies dealing with virgin raw materials equals to or is almost equal to that of recycling companies. There is therefore no evidence for the difference recycling brings to the environment.
Recycling does not provide an alternative answer to the large amounts of wastes that end up in land fills and incinerators. At times the amount of recyclable waste deposited by consumers at the recycling centers is so large such that some of this waste is not utilized in the recycling “One thing you may be unaware of is that if your local area does not have enough workers or machinery, there are times where the recycling that you have done is just thrown away as there is too much to go through” (Tierney 15).
It is disposed off since there is already too much going through for recycling such that the recycling centers cannot keep up with the quantities of recyclables being supplied. In addition to these, recycling creates the notion that plastics once used can be recycled.
Instead of reducing the amount of plastics to be disposed off, it increases them since consumers’ use more of the plastics with the conviction that they will be recycled thus using them in great quantities does not have the same negative influence on the environment since recycling caters for them. As a result, the excess of these plastics are disposed off in the same landfills that recycling companies try to avoid.
The market for the finished products of recycled goods is believed to be large, however, this is a misconception by the recycling companies. There are various myths relating to recycled household goods which make the purchasing of recycled goods by consumers quite difficult “One of the myths about recycling is that recycled products are inferior to virgin-source products.
This myth grew out of the paper recycling industry.”(Burn 622). These myths have to be dealt with first before a wide market for recycled goods can be achieved. One of the myths surrounding recycled products is that they are inferior as compared to their counterparts produced using virgin raw materials. These myths developed from the paper industry which was among the first recycling industry.
The quality of recycled paper then that was produced was of poor quality but improved technology has resulted to better quality papers whose quality cannot be distinguished from papers produced from a virgin source. However, this myth continues to be a conviction among consumers concerning all recycled products making the market for recycled products smaller. Breaking this myth will widen the market as consumers will purchase more of the recycled products comfortably.
As a result of the two arguments concerning recycling, measures have to be introduced to reduce the negatives and maximize on the positives. This way, recycling would be both beneficial and effective just as it was meant to be when it was initially invented.
The cost of recycling is shifted on to taxpayers when the government provides the essential needs such as water and electricity to recycling companies “Remember also that your tax dollars also must be used to pay the employees of government-run recycling programs.” (DeSimone 16) This cost is then shifted to tax payers.
To reduce the cost that is burdened on the consumer, most recycling industries can be sold to private companies so that there can be less expenditure incurred by the government in funding the recycling companies. Privatization would reduce the indirect cost incurred by consumer. This would therefore make recycling cheaper since the costs of recycling would be shouldered by the private companies.
To reduce the amount of toxic emission released by recycling companies, several initiatives can be taken by the recycling companies. One positive solution would be reducing the miles that have to be covered in delivering the recyclables to the different recycling centers since they limit the number of post-consumer recyclables. “In order to increase recycling, we must work to increase collection opportunities” (Tilley 17).
A lot of energy is consumed and toxic emissions are released from the engines of these vehicles while covering the long distance. This can be reduced by building the recycling centers close to each other and also close to the suppliers of other raw materials that are needed during the recycling phase.
Another issue that is related to recycling is the high number plastics that are still being produced by both the recycling companies and those that use virgin raw materials. The problem is, recycling creates the impression that the plastics being produced are recycled therefore the former risk of plastics filling landfills is highly reduced. As a result there are many plastics that are produced and taken back to the market.
They are then taken back to recycling companies as recyclables and the general turnover of plastics to be recycled exceeds the amount that can be recycled at a given time. The excess then has to be taken to the landfills that recycling companies are so much against.
To handle this problem, awareness can be created among consumers to reduce their consumption of plastics and plastic companies also have to take an initiative to reduce the amount of plastics produced. Other means of packaging can also be used for example in packing where photodegradable plastics can be used. Once photodegradable plastics are used, consumers must realize that they can only degrade if exposed to sunlight.
This can only be achieved through widespread awareness among consumers. Another strategy that can be used is to increase the exportation of excess recyclables to other counties such as Japan and China where there are more industries that can recycle them instead of dumping them in landfills “Despite strong domestic markets, about 50% of recovered PET and 20% of recovered HDPE is exported to China.” (Mateo 13). This would greatly reduce the number of plastics dumped in landfills.
Consumers can also be informed about the benefits of using recycled products both in the international market and the local market. This could be achieved through creation of awareness programs. The myths that recycled products are of poor quality need to be abolished so that consumers can increase their collection of recyclables as well as an increased market for recycled products.
Market for recycled products is a factor hindering the success of recycling companies and the sale of recycled items, therefore creation of a wider and informed market would increase the market for recycled products “we are working to increase the collection of plastic through greater consumer education and awareness of recycling opportunities.” (Boustead 135).
Recycling has been a concern since the development of plastics and other non-biodegradable products. In an attempt to reduce the capacity and size of landfills that were a danger to environmental conditions, recycling was introduced. Recyclable items include plastics, glass, metal, paper and wood.
The concept of recycling made it easier for individuals to consume product without the guilt of destroying the natural environment by releasing contaminating agents into it involuntarily which is an essential element for survival. Recycling at the point of initiation presented an excellent solution to the problem of landfills and incinerators.
However, with time it has come to the realization of scientists that recycling has not been as effective as it was intended to be initially. Toxic fumes are still being produced and a lot of energy consumed in transportation of the recyclables and their raw materials. Consequently, there was need to go back to the drawing table and reassess what needs to be done in order to ensure that recycling is as effective as it was intended to be.
Measures were and are thus being undertaken to make the market for recycled goods wider and to reduce the overall consumption of non-biodegradable plastics. Also the amount of fuel and energy used in transportation of these recyclables need to be reduced. In order to this, wider markets for both recyclables and finished products from recycling have to be increased. This will be done by creating awareness throughout the international and local markets as well as dealing with the myth that recycled products are of low quality.
Boustead, Ian, Problems in Packaging – the environmental issue. New York: Ellis Horwood: Chichester/John Wiley, 1984.
Burn, Shawn. “Social Psychology and the Stimulation of Recycling Behaviors: The Block Leader Approach.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology. 21.8 (2006): 611- 629.
Cozic, Charles. Garbage and Waste. San Diego, California: Greenhaven Press, 1997.
DeSimone, Bonnie. Rewarding Recyclers, and Finding Gold in the Garbage. New York Times. 2006.
Howell, Garry S. “A ten year review of plastics recycling.” Journal of Hazardous Materials. 29 (1995): 143-164
Heimlich, Joe. Recycling. Ohio State University Fact Sheet. (n.d) 10 May 2011
Mateo, Martins. What Are Some Disadvantages of Recycling? Ezine articles, 19 Mar 2010. 10 May 2010.
Netzley, Patricia. Issues in the Environment. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, 1998.
Oskamp, Stuart. “Resource Conservation and Recycling: Behavior and Policy.” Journal of Social Issues. 51. 4 (1995): 157-177.
Tierney, John. Recycling Is Garbage. New York Times 30 June 1996.
Tilley, Kate, “Australian report questions benefit of biodegradables,” Plastics News, dateline Dec. 17, 2002.