Does Recycling Really Make a Difference? 

You Bet it Does !!!


By Leah Thorpe; Naturalist;  Stubbs Island Whale Watching; 2005



When we recycle our waste products rather than throw them all in the garbage we save room in landfills, reduce energy required to manufacture new products and reduce the fossil fuels extracted and greenhouse gases being burned off into the atmosphere. These are just a few of the many reasons why recycling can help us take an enormous step towards the preservation of our environment.


Need More Convincing?


Here are just a few examples of the benefits of recycling and of why each individual person really can make a difference.




·        We can save more space in our landfills by recycling paper products than any other materials and each piece of paper can be recycled up to five times before the fibres become too weak . 1

 ·        44 million newspapers are thrown away every day in the United States. This is like throwing 500 000 trees into a landfill each week. 2


·        Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil and 7000 gallons of water! 3


·        If each person were to reuse a paper shopping bag for just one trip to the store, we would save 60 000 trees. 4 Imagine how many trees would be saved if we all used reusable cloth grocery bags instead!





·        It takes about 95% less energy to make aluminium from recycled aluminium than to make it from raw materials. 1


·        Recycling a single aluminium can saves enough energy to power your television for three hours or to run a 100-watt light bulb for almost four hours. 1 Imagine how much energy you alone could save if you recycled every aluminium can you used in a year!


·        Aluminium dumped into our landfills today will remain there for over 200 years.  1




·        Plastic bags made from recycled polythene rather than virgin materials save two thirds of the energy required for production and reduce the water used by almost 90%. 5


·        It is still difficult to recycle plastic containers and make them into new containers for food and beverages because the separation process for the various different types and colors of plastics is labour intensive and not cost efficient. 6 The best option is to reduce plastic wastes by purchasing items that have less packaging.


·        Recycling is still important however, because there are many items that can be made from recycled plastics. These items include garbage cans, picnic tables, fibre-fill for vests and jackets, traffic cones and many others. 5 Purchasing items such as these that are made from recycled materials will help to further support this industry.




·        Glass is 100% recyclable and can go from the recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days! 7


·        Approximately 80% of recycled glass containers are made into new glass bottles and glass can be reused an infinite number of times. 7


·        Recycling one ton of glass saves the equivalent of nine gallons of fuel oil and one sixth of a ton of carbon dioxide! 7


·        Making a glass container from a recycled container creates about 20% less air pollution, 50% less water pollution and uses only about half the energy of making it from virgin materials. Recycling a single glass bottle can save enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours! 7




·        Yard trimmings and food wastes make up approximately 23% of municipal solid waste in the United States. 8


·        This type of waste is biodegradable but often these food items sit in landfills for long periods of time unable to be broken down through the plastic garbage bags they are stored in. We could keep many of these items out of our landfills and allow them to be broken down naturally by composting.


·        Composting enriches and regenerates poor soils which can also provide many other environmental benefits such as helping to suppress plant diseases, reducing or eliminating the need for chemical fertilizers, promoting higher crop yields, and facilitating the restoration of forests, wetlands and other important habitats. 8



·        Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, nickel, lead and cadmium, which can leak into the ground and contaminate the environment if improperly disposed of. 9


·        Cadmium can be toxic to aquatic invertebrates and can bioaccumulate in fish. 9 This will in turn build up in animals which feed on fish such as humans and terrestrial or marine mammals.


·        Contact the battery manufacturer, the appliance manufacturer or your local council to find out how to properly dispose of batteries in your area or better yet use appliances that derive power from other sources such as the sun whenever possible.


·        Another good option for appliances that require batteries is to use rechargeable ones. Each rechargeable battery may substitute for hundreds of single use batteries. 9 Imagine the heavy metals we could keep out of our landfills if we all switched to rechargeable.



Although many of the materials that we use on a daily basis are recyclable, there are some products that cannot be recycled or that the process is too inefficient to make it worthwhile. By avoiding the use of these products whenever possible, we can help promote the use of more environmentally responsible products in their place.




·        Recycling of Styrofoam is difficult and the technology for it is not nearly as advanced as for many other products such as paper. 10


·        Each year Americans throw away 25 trillion Styrofoam cups. This is enough to circle the earth 436 times. 4 Imagine how much Styrofoam we could keep out of our environment if we all carried travel mugs to use when purchasing hot beverages.


·        Harmful chemicals are released into the atmosphere during the production of Styrofoam. These chemicals have been shown to degrade the Earth’s ozone layer. 10


·        Styrofoam is also a popular product for packaging up leftover food in restaurants so that customers can take it home. Next time you go out for dinner remember to bring your own Tupperware so you can bring your leftovers home without adding to the Styrofoam in our landfills.




·        Waxed cardboard cannot be recycled. It can only be recycled as mixed paper and many recycling plants will not even accept it meaning that it will end up in the trash. 11


·        Waxed cardboard can however be reused so if you cannot avoid using it altogether try to think of alternative uses when you are finished with it. 


As you have seen, recycling can help us take an enormous step towards conserving our world’s resources and energy supplies as well as limiting the amount of greenhouse gasses and other pollutants released into the atmosphere. Although it may seem like we are just tiny parts of this vast planet, each one of us really can make a significant difference by making these small and simple changes in our day-to-day activities and in the disposal of our waste products.




1. Anchorage Recycling Center. 2005. Aluminum Recycling.


2. University of Colorado at boulder. 2005. Recycling Facts.


3. The Resourceful Schools Project. 2005. Resources for Recycling



4. Oberlin College Recycling Program. 2005. Oberlin Recycles.


5. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. 2005. The

Benefits of Recycling.


6. Richard S. Stein. 1992. Polymer Recycling: Opportunities and

Limitations. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the

United States of America. 89 (3): pp. 835-838.


7. Glass Packaging Institute. 2005. Glass Recycling and the Environment.


8. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 2004. Composting.


9. Waste Online. 2004. Battery Recycling Information Sheet.



10. Henry A. Wells, Jr; Neil McCubbin; Red Cavaney; Bonnie Camo; M. B.

Hocking. 1991. Paper Versus Polystyrene: Environmental Impact.

Science. 252 (5011): pp. 1361-1363.


11. Department of Public Works, Berkely California, 2005. Commercial

Recycling Services.