Recycling has become so second nature for most people, it is easy to forget that every time you throw a soda can, newspaper, or water bottle into a blue bin, you are helping to preserve the environment and create jobs. People around the world celebrated the second annual Global Recycling Day on March 18. It is a reminder of the important role recycling plays in our lives, and that recyclables serve as a valuable resource, helping to preserve the planet for all of us, and for future generations to come.
There are six major natural resources on Earth: water, air, coal, oil, natural gas, and minerals. Every year, several trillion tons of these resources are consumed. That is why it is imperative that we start considering recyclables to be the planet’s seventh and most important resource. Recyclables are a resource that can be used over and over again so that we do not exhaust our natural resources.
With an increasing global population and growing levels of consumption, conserving our resources is more important than ever before. Whether the focus is ocean plastics, climate change, energy consumption, or other environmental concern, recycling is a solution. Recycling transforms plastics, metals, paper, glass and other such scrap commodities into new materials, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, saving energy through reduced consumption and providing valuable feedstock in the manufacturing process.
The recycling industry in the U.S. processes 130 million metric tons of material each year, and in the process saves the CO2 equivalent of 410 million tons of greenhouse gases. Recycling also reduces the need to mine the earth for metal ores, cut down more trees for paper, drill for oil, or produce more natural gas.
The benefits of recycling extend beyond the environment. Recycling is a job creator. The industry directly and indirectly supports nearly 535,000 jobs throughout the United States. These include high-tech, high-paying jobs such as engineers, economists, and environmental scientists. Recycling also generates more than $13 billion in tax revenue for our local communities. Overall recycling amounts to a $117 billion impact on the U.S. economy.
Earlier this month it was revealed that the U.S. set a record, with its highest ever annual trade deficit. This is another area that recycling provides an important benefit, helping to offset an otherwise even higher trade deficit. Since the year 2000, net exports of U.S. scrap have made a positive contribution to our trade balancing amounting to more than $235 billion. This is due to recyclables being highly-valuable, highly-sought after commodities that are used in global manufacturing. It is estimated that recycling provides at least 40% of the global raw material needs of manufacturers worldwide.
It is easy to forget what happens to that can, newspaper, or bottle after you set the blue bin at the curb. However, you are starting a cycle that allows your recyclables to become a new can, cereal box, park bench, rail tie, appliance, or other product. There is a tree that doesn’t have to get cut down, earth that doesn’t have to be disturbed, and fewer greenhouse gases being emitted because of the items you placed in the blue bin. Someone is going to work every day, producing a valuable commodity, collecting a paycheck, and buying food for their family. It all starts with the blue bin.
Robin Wiener is president of the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), headquartered in Washington, D.C.