Should we recycle?
This question should be broken down into two seperate points.
First, what are the environmental impacts of recycling? Do we use more energy to produce new materials from scratch, or recycle existing materials? What are other factors that impact the environment? How do these points vary across different types of materials?
Second, what are the economic impacts of recycling? Which costs our society more money and what are the impacts of distorting government subsidies? Which costs more for the recycling/manufacturing company? How does this vary across materials?
Advanced thanks hubbers!
Absolutely we should recycle! I think we tend to forget that absolutely everything on earth is finite - even that which we tend to call renewable. Wood, bamboo, etc. is finite in the sense that we are capable of harvesting faster than Nature can renew. Recycling helps us extend the life of resources worldwide.
Studies show that recycling plastics (think bottles) is far cheaper than creating new plastics from scratch. However, even if it were more expensive, it would still make sense to recycle because of the limited resources available.
Environmentally, recycling is a life-and-death activity. The more we use resources (especially wood, bamboo, etc.), the more we change the environment surrounding that resource. For example, overharvesting in a forest can interfere with the water shed, animal habitat, soil stability, fish habitat, air quality and impact the environment in many other ways.
Reduce, reuse, repurpose, recycle!
This answer reflects my personal research on the subject nearly perfectly. Scientific American states recycling plastic is still (barely) more expensive, but when we factor the environmental and opportunity costs of new material, its a no brainer.
I don't know why people wouldn't recycle. I recycle glass, cans, paper and plastic. Many items that were normally thrown in the garbage I try to reuse. I take glass jars and store nails, screws, nuts, and bolts in them. Empty paper towel tubes and toilet paper tubes I use as mini bird seed feeders by spreading peanut butter over them and then covering them in birdseed. I even use bath water for potted plants. As the saying goes, "Waste not, want not."
A family member of mine said, some time ago, that hand dryers were worse for the environment than paper towel waste because the power usage came from power plants that still polluted. I think it was his way of discrediting something "eco-friendly" which he does from time to time. And, while it is true that hand driers, and recycling facilities, use energy in their attempts to do something less wasteful, it's important to remember that there are cleaner ways to get that energy. So, for example, a recycling facility that burns a lot of electricity can seem counter productive, but that facility can use clean energy (solar/wind) to do the same thing, where as the coal plant will never be eco-friendly.
So, in answer to your question, yes we should recycle. It's a well-meaning program that helps sustain the Earth. And, the more clean energy progresses, the more effective that program will be. It will cost money, just like any other program, but the benefits outweigh the price tag.
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I have often wondered this since recycling is so reported in the world as being important. Since visiting the local recycling drop off it seems few people actually recycle.
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