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One of the key challenges that have emerged in the 21st century is how to deal with the waste produced by individuals and the harmful effects associated with it. The level of waste material has exhibited significant increase over the past century due to the rise in human population and higher living standards, which have made it possible for people to afford more commodities.
Waste management is an important issue since trash takes up the land resources of a country and negatively affects the environment if it is not dealt with properly. Since getting people to reduce the amount of trash they produce may be hard to achieve, recycling is the most feasible solution to the problem. This method can help improve the growing waste problem globally at the same time reducing the environmental impact.
Recycling is a practical solution since most of the waste disposed of by people can be recycled. However, the level of recycling is still significantly low in the US. Cantu reveals that while 80% of the waste produces by Americans is recyclable, only 28% of it gets recycled (14). Recycling of waste is the only way through which the world can deal with its growing waste problem and as such, policies should be put in place to ensure that everyone engages in this activity.
A Case for Recycling
For many materials, recycling decreases the energy consumption in the manufacturing industries. The manufacturing industry is an energy intensive one with vast quantities of energy being used in the mineral extraction and processing stages. The reuse of materials such as metals can help significantly reduce the energy consumption by the industry. Tulchinsky states that the production of steel and aluminum from virgin ore are both very polluting and energy intensive (343).
The energy consumed during the mineral extraction phases can be saved on by reusing material. Gaustad and Elsa document that while 175 megajoules per kilogram of energy is used to produce aluminum from primary sources; recycled aluminum only required 10 to 20 megajoules per kilogram (287). This energy advantage should create a strong economic incentive to recycle since the manufacturing cost will be reduced and the end product less costly.
The reduced energy consumption facilitated by recycling is beneficial to the environment since it will mitigate the negative environmental costs of burning fuels. The energy needs of the manufacturing industry have contributed significantly to the global warming problem currently being experienced on Earth (Calcott 290).
This is because most industries make use of fossil fuels that are the primary contributors of green house gases. The mining process also contributes to the carbon emission since mineral extraction is energy intensive and the raw materials often have to be transported to the industry for processing (Tulchinsky 343). Recycling will reducing the energy usage will therefore reduce green house gas emissions and thus mitigate environmental impacts such as global warming.
Recycling will reduce the environmental impact of urban waste disposal methods. At the present, the two most prevalent forms of waste management techniques are landfills and incinerators. The OECD observes that landfills release methane and CO2 while waste incinerators emit heat and energy that contributes to climate change (124).
The methane emitted by landfills is particular of concern since the gas continues to be released into the environment for decades after waste disposal (Calcott 290). A waste management method that reduces the amount of waste taken to the landfills or incinerators will help mitigate the environmental impact of these two methods.
Recycling can help reduce the burden on the diminishing mineral resources on our planet. Demand for raw materials has led to the extensive extraction of minerals from the earth all through the 21st century. This demand can be expected to increase as fast developing countries such as China and India require even more minerals to fuel their industrial growth. The earth is not capable of providing these minerals indefinitely since most of them are non-renewable resources.
Relying on these primary deposits is therefore unsustainable. Recycling helps overcome this problem since it creates an alternative source of these raw materials. Cantu asserts that because of the intensive steel recycling efforts in the US, 50% of the steel produced in the country over the past 50 years has been from scrap metal making recycled steel the single largest source of ray material for the steel making industry (15). These efforts reduce the demands on the steel deposits on earth therefore guaranteeing future sustainability.
Recycling will reduce the burden currently placed on landfills, which have to accommodate increasing loads of waste. Landfill sites are huge holes in the ground excavated to dump rubbish and solid waste products. As the population increases and the amount of waste increases with it, some cities are running out of space for landfills.
As it currently stands, the landfills used in the country are filling up and if nothing is done about the waste problem, more land will be required to accommodate the waste (Tulchinsky 343). Land is a scarce and valuable resource in the country and landfills will take up more land that could be used for economically beneficial activities or housing.
The difficulties of placing new landfill sites are increasing since nobody wants a landfill near his community. The local community is exposed to negative impacts of landfills, which include; noise, odor, and negative impacts on property values (Morgan 35). In addition to this, landfills present possible health hazards since pollution can leak into streams and groundwater. Recycling can help to alleviate this problem since it significantly reduces the amount of waste taken to the landfills.
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Recycling reduces the economic burden placed on people to cover waste disposal. In the recent years, the cost of placing waste materials in a landfill has been increasing with up to 300% increases observed in some localities (Tulchinsky 342).
These costs can be expected to continue to rise as stricter government regulations are passed to try addressing the waste problem in the country. ( In addition to this individual costs, waste disposal also costs the entire community since in most cases, the waste management industry is financed through taxation. Sorting material to be recycled at the source will reduce the cost that individuals have to incur to dispose their garbage.
Arguments against Recycling and Counterarguments
Opponents of recycling argue that there are alternative methods that can be used to deal with the waste problem with reduced environmental impact. Improving incineration technologies lead to less air pollution and resource consumption (OECD 125).
By using such methods, the society can avoid the negative impacts of waste disposal on the environment and save on space used in the landfills. While it is true that new cost-effective waste disposal technologies can be used, these methods do not lead to the desirable zero-carbon emissions or reduce mineral use. The sharp reduction in environmental impact and resource preservation can only be possible through recycling.
In addition to this, alternative methods increase waste generation, which is not only expensive but also damaging to the environment. Miller and Spoolman note that incinerators encourage waste production and discourage recycling or waste reduction since incinerators must be fed huge volumes of trash every day to be economically feasible (413). Recycling is the only method that does not encourage waste generation and promotes sustainability.
Recycling does not make economic sense for material that is cheaply available or hard to recycle. Miller and Spoolman reveal that while it may make economic sense to recycle valuable and easy to recycle materials such as aluminum, paper, and steel, the same does not apply for cheap and plentiful resources (411).
For example, glass made of silica is cheap and recycling efforts are more expensive than manufacturing new products. Plastic is also easily manufactures but recycling it is a complicated process due to the difficulty of separating from process. Attempting to recycle such products only adds to the economic burden of the society since subsidies have to be offered to make the recycled products competitive. Critics therefore argue that if recycling is not able to pay for itself, it should not be undertaken (Miller and Spoolman 411).
While it is true that some products such as glass and plastic are hard to recycle and the recycled product might be costlier than a non-recycled one, this should not be used as an argument against recycling. Disposing of products is a costly process that is funded by charges to households and businesses. It is therefore justifiable if the recycling process costs people some money.
Waste can be disposed in such a manner that it generates energy. Incinerators which burn waste products can be used to run steam turbines and produce electricity. Miller and Spoolman document that this electricity can be used to power many households thereby making waste a useful product in energy production (413). The methane gas produced by landfills can be collected and used to power households.
Critics argue that recycling is not necessary since waste product can be used in this positive ways. While waste product can be used for energy generation, the processes lead to air and land pollution. Incinerators produce electricity but at a high operating cost and a significant damage to the air quality. These factors have led to intense opposition to their use by citizens in the US. Recycling is still the best method to make use of waste material.
This paper set out to argue that recycling waste is the only means through which the waste problem can be addressed and the environment protected. The paper began by reasserting that waste is one of the most costly environmental problems facing the world. It then proceeded to highlight the significant benefits that can be obtained from recycling.
In addition to the reduced environmental impact, recycling will reduce the demand on non-renewable resources and foster sustainability. The paper has noted that while recycling is costly and may add to the taxpayer burden if it is funded by the government, the benefits accrued from such programs far outweigh the monetary cost. Governments should therefore provide incentives to discourage waste and foster a culture of recycling in the society.
Calcott, Paul. “Waste, recycling, and ‘design for environment’: Roles for markets and policy instruments”. Resource and Energy Economics. 27.1 (2005): 287–305. Web.
Cantu, Diana. “From Trash to Treasure: Recycling Scrap Metal into Steel”. Technology and Engineering Teacher. 8.2 (2011): 14-21. Web.
Gaustad, Gabrielle, and Elsa Olivetti. “Design for Recycling Evaluation and Efficient Alloy Modification”. Journal of Industrial Ecology. 14.2 (2010): 286-308. Web.
Miller, Tyler, and S. Spoolman. Environmental Science. NY: Cengage Learning, 2010. Print.
Morgan, William. “Understanding recycling behavior in Kentucky: Who recycles and why”. Journal of Materials. 60.8 (2008): 32-35. Web.
OECD. Cities and Climate Change. Brussels: OECD Publishing, 2010. Print.
Tulchinsky, Theodore. The New Public Health: An Introduction for the 21st Century. Boston: Academic Press, 2009. Print.