“Cinderella went at once to gather the finest (pumpkin) she could get, and brought it to her godmother… Then she struck it with her wand, and the pumpkin was instantly turned into a fine gilded coach.”
This excerpt from the popular Cinderella story captures how most people think of recycling – some (magical) process to turn any kind of waste into something useful! Amazing uh? Then, if it is such a good thing, why doesn’t everyone recycle? In my opinion, amongst several, two reasons stand out.
The first, quite subtly implied by the Cinderella story, is the misconception that just like the pumpkin-turned-carriage which ‘expired’ by midnight, recycled products are substandard, hence not durable. The second, which is more obvious, is that folks are just not aware (enough) of the benefits and how-to of recycling.
Recycling, simply put, is the process of converting unwanted or unusable (recyclable) materials into new materials. It involves the processing of recyclables to extract or recover materials and resources. Not all materials can be recycled; hence recyclable materials include several types of paper, metal, plastic, tyres, glass, electronics, cardboard and textiles.
A practice known to man as far back as 400BC, and especially since various war times, recycling has been man’s creative response to scarcity of resources and rising energy costs. For example, during the WWII, significant amounts of materials were being consumed by war, leading to material shortages which compelled several countries to recycle their available materials. The effects of war also caused many civilians to embrace recycling, thereby encouraging the practice.
Due to high costs and difficulty of the production processes of some virgin materials, recycling involves the reuse of materials from waste (such as paper) in producing different materials (such as paperboard) as against fresh (virgin) paper. It also includes extraction of certain (precious) metals from complex products (such as gold from circuit boards) and reuse of hazardous materials (e.g. mercury from thermometers).
Are recycled products substandard?
No. Point blank. Recycled products meet the highest quality standards. For example, in 1998, a consortium of copier manufacturers and printers conducted a test to see how well recycled paper performed in printers, copiers, and other office equipment. Canon USA Inc., Hewlett-Packard Company, Lexmark International Inc., and the U.S. Government Printing Office tested paper with 30 percent post-consumer recycled content-the standard set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for use by Federal agencies and contractors. The verdict: Not only does recycled content paper often meet or exceed the quality standards of virgin paper, it works without complications in office equipment.
Benefits of Recycling (Why you should recycle)
- Recycling helps to conserve our earth’s resources: We have limited resources, so recycling reduces the need to extract these raw materials such as oil, forests, and metals thereby reducing our impact on the environment. It supports a circular economy where waste is used as a resource. For example, recycling one tonne of aluminum conserves 8 tonnes of bauxite and 4 tonnes of chemicals required to produce an equal quantity of virgin aluminum.
- Recycling saves energy: Generally, recycling a material uses far less energy than manufacturing from scratch. For example, it takes 75 percent less energy to make a recycled plastic bottle than it does to produce from virgin material, and 5 times less energy than to burn it!
- Recycling creates jobs: One amazing reason to recycle, especially in tough economic times as this, is that it produces far more job opportunities than the traditional waste disposal methods (landfill and incineration). Recycling involves stages such as collection, sorting and reprocessing, and studies have estimated that for every 1 job in landfill, 10 are created in recycle processing and 25 in recycle -based manufacturing.
- Recycling reduces pollution: Studies have shown that recycling and reprocessing are 194 times more effective in reducing greenhouse gas emissions than landfill and virgin manufacturing. By recycling, we avoid the environmental damage caused by drilling for petroleum, harvesting trees, mining metals, etc. For example, recycled white paper production creates 74 percent less air pollution and 35 percent less water pollution.
- Recycling helps us live more ustainably: Recycling helps each of us reduce our carbon footprint and impact on the environment. It makes us more conscious of our consumption choices and production of waste, and helps us make more environmentally friendly lifestyle choices.
What can you do?
- Vote with your wallet. Choose to purchase items that are made from recycled materials. Look for a recycling symbol or language on the product packaging. Buy recycled products. Patronise recycled Nigerian products.
- When shopping, use your own reusable bag instead of nylons or plastic bags. In the absence of a reusable bag, choose paper packaging.
- Avoid disposable and single-use items such as paper plates, disposable utensils, straws, etc.
- Store up your plastic bottles in a clean manner, for the recycler.
- Ultimately, reduce your waste. Choose to go paperless.
I strongly encourage you to begin recycling today, for just as Cinderella said, “… everything we need is right before us”!
Damilola Kuteyi, writes from Cross River State, Nigeria. He is an environment enthusiast and volunteers with wastesmart.org.
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