In 2014, Americans recycled and composted 89 million tons of municipal solid waste. This saved almost 1.1 quadrillion BTUs of energy, which is equivalent to the amount of energy consumed by over 25 million U.S. households in a year! While we’ve made great strides in diverting waste from landfills, more than 65% of the waste generated still ended up in landfills and incinerators. To “close the loop” and ensure efficiency, we must go beyond recycling and also practice waste prevention, reusing products and buying recycled. Together, these actions help:
- Offset rising disposal costs by diverting waste from landfills;
- Reduce air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions associated with landfilling, incineration, resource acquisition and processing, and product manufacturing (e.g., recycling glass to make new bottles and jars cuts related air pollution by 20%);
- Conserve energy and limited natural resources such as timber, petroleum, water and minerals because it reduces our need to harvest for new raw materials (e.g., it takes 95% less energy to make a can from recycled aluminum compared to virgin metal);
- Encourage communities to rethink the materials we use and the materials we typically throw out;
- Create a market for recycled products;
- Encourage producers to not only use fewer virgin materials, but also design and produce environmentally sound products.