Americans have gotten better at recycling and reducing the amount of trash generated per person. However, there is still a lot of room for improvement. A report released by the As You Sow foundation estimated that the United States threw away $11.4 billion in recyclables in 2010.
Generation and Recovery
Recovery for recycling varies with the type of trash. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paper and paper products by far contribute the most to the municipal solid waste stream at 28.5 percent. Food scraps and yard trimmings follow at 13.9 and 13.4 percent, respectively.
The As You Sow report estimated that wasted paper alone accounts for just under $1.3 billion. Paper waste has one of the highest recovery rates for recycling at 62.5 percent in 2010. Plastics contribute over $8 billion. These materials have one of the lowest recycling rates at 8.2 percent, according to the EPA.
Jobs and Recycling
The recycling industry has enjoyed tremendous growth. The plastic recycling industry alone employs over 30,000 Americans. The figures of wasted packaging represent a lost opportunity not only for the environment, but also the economy. Imagine how many more individuals could get work if plastics had a similar recycling rate as paper products?
One sobering figure from the report involves aluminum. According to the As You Sow foundation, Americans waste over $1.4 billion in unrecovered aluminum. This material is extremely environmentally costly, which makes recycling so important.
According to the Aluminum Association, recycled aluminum uses 95 percent less energy than virgin materials. It also generates 95 percent less greenhouse gases. However, less than 20 percent of the aluminum generated is recovered for recycling.
It is important to note that some materials cannot be recycled. Soiled paper packaging such as paper plates or pizza boxes should not end up in your recycling bin because contaminants can ruin the paper slurry used to create new products.
Despite the limitations, recycling makes good environmental and economic sense. Rather than throwing cash away in the trash, opportunities exist for creating jobs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It begins with making a commitment to lessen the amount of waste your household generates.