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Implementing A Mandatory Recycling Program

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 2565 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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In a world where “global warming” and “going green” are common terms in the English language, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher what it all means and just what the individual can do to help. Recycling is a major issue today and though there is controversy about whether it is necessary and how necessary it may be, implementing a mandatory recycling program is imperative for the environment and the people that live in it. Recycling comes with many benefits and prevents problems such as pollution and habitat destruction. Currently, our recycling programs are poor, and in order to improve them, a mandatory measure needs to be taken. Some oppose to it because they claim that it is expensive, ineffective, not as environmentally sound as other options, and does not provide the job opportunities needed. All of these oppositions are not valid or strong arguments and will be proved wrong. Recycling is necessary to the earth and its inhabitants.

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Recycling can be defined as “reprocessing discarded solid materials into new, useful products.” [1] It can reduce water pollution which would then protect species and reduce habitat destruction. Recycling reduces air pollution as well which would then reduce the effects or process of global warming. Further, it reduces solid waste disposal as well as energy demand which make fuel supplies last longer. Creating a program to require recycling from everyone would clearly benefit a variety of environmental processes. Individual households as well as workplaces produce five major types of materials that can be recycled. This includes paper products, glass, aluminum, steel, and some plastic. In order to understand the benefits of a mandatory program, the two ways recyclable materials can be reprocessed need to be addressed. The first way is called primary or closed loop recycling. This is where waste is recycled into new products of the same type. For example, a newspaper is recycled back into a new newspaper. The second way is called secondary recycling or downcycling. This is where waste materials are converted into different products. For example, a newspaper is recycled into cellulose insulation. There are two different types of wastes that can be recycled; preconsumer and postconsumer waste. Preconsumer waste is generated in a manufacturing process and recycled instead of being discarded. Postconsumer waste is generated by the consumer’s use of the product. Both types are equally important to be recycled. Theoretically, anything can be recycled but it comes down to two important things. These two things are important in deciding how the mandatory program will work successfully. The first question that needs to be addressed is will the item be recycled? In the process of separating the wastes collected for recycling, some of it gets mixed with other wastes and sent to landfills or incinerated. Secondly, will consumers actually purchase the recycled products and complete the cycle to make it profitable? In aid to a mandatory program, it would help if the government required a label that indicated how much of the product contained recycled material.1 [2] 

Our recycling rates are poor, and seem even worse when comparing them to the rates of other developed nations. Both Switzerland and Japan recycle about half of their municipal solid waste or “MSW”, while the United States only recycles about thirty percent of its MSW. With a mandatory recycling program, studies show that the US and other developed countries could recycle sixty to eighty percent of their MSW. Some believe that we do not have a problem with our waste management. If the previous percentages were not enough, then the following statistics are more than convincing. The United States wastes enough aluminum to rebuild the country’s entire airline fleet every three months; enough tires each year to encircle the planet almost three times; about 2.5 million nonreturnable plastic bottles every hour; enough office paper each year to build a wall eleven feet high across the country from New York City to San Francisco.1 [3] Clearly, wasting what could be recycled is a big issue in America. Requiring citizens to recycle would help reduce the severity of these waste problems. Now that the different types of recycling and the magnitude of the recycling problem has been outlined, claims to why we should not implement a program can be easily, successfully, and intelligently declined.

It is argued that recycling is more expensive than trash collection and disposal. However, “when designed right, recycling programs are cost-competitive with trash collection and disposal.”2 When comparing costs of both methods, the cost of curbside recycling is usually compared with the cost of conventional disposal alone. The fallacy here is that with recycling, the costs of collection and disposal are displaced. Instead of this comparison, the average cost of collection and disposal should be compared with the overall average cost of collection and recovery. Through this comparison, the costs are very impressive.2 Additionally, the United States spends five-hundred million dollars a year on picking up litter.1 Mandatory programs would lower this number significantly. It has been found to be true that recycling is expensive in some communities. However, it needs to be noted again that when done correctly, it is much cheaper. “Recycling costs less than traditional trash collection and disposal when communities achieve high levels of recycling”.2 The communities that the data is reflecting an expensive program are “still recycling at very low rates and are treating recycling as an add-on to their traditional trash system rather than as a replacement for it”.2 This is often the problem when critics are evaluating the costs of a program. They often “treat it as an add-on cost, and [it is] therefore expensive.” 2 Baltimore Maryland is a great example of how you should transition into the program. They use the same trucks to collect recyclables as they do trash, separately and at different times. By doing this, Baltimore made their upfront costs minimal and created no increase in their solid waste budget.2 [4] The economics of the entire situation improves when recycling is not an add-on to trash disposal, but it is integrated into the process.

It is falsely assumed that we can only recycle twenty-five to thirty percent of our waste. This number was considered a maximum in 1985, however today it should be considered a minimum and a much higher percentage is achievable.2 Currently the US does only recycle about thirty percent of its MSW. Because of these two statistics, those opposed to the program often think of this percentage as a cap. However, this is untrue. Although the amount of solid waste generated has leveled off individually, it has continued to increase on a national scale and there is therefore more potential waste to be recycled. Rates of what is being recycled have increased dramatically since the 1980s and early 1990s. The growth of the recycling programs is especially responsible for the increase. A dozen states are recycling about thirty percent or more of their MSW, but among those states communities are recycling up to fifty percent.2 These numbers are much higher in these communities and are continuing to grow because of aspects of programs they have implemented. They have put into effect waste prevention strategies, convenient services such as curbside and drop-off, economic incentives, and resident participation. If all of these strategies and more were implemented on a federal level to require a recycling program, all of our statistics would improve. 2

The third argument that those against recycling programs use is that landfills and incinerators are more cost effective and environmentally sound.2 However the truth of the matter is again, when designed correctly, recycling programs are cost competitive with their competition. Further, recycling programs provide pollution prevention benefits. When recycling, the pollution normally generated from landfilling and incinerating materials is avoided, and the environmental burden of extracting virgin materials and the manufacturing process is reduced.2 [5] Even with low landfill tipping fees, it is still the preferable option to recycle. Currently, “twenty two states have less than ten years of landfill capacity left.”2 Some southern states even have as low as five years. Now, why is this important to know? We need to look towards the future. The new landfills that would need to be created could cost much more than the ones that are here today.2 Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has issued that municipal landfills must install liners and leachate, the liquid that drains from the landfill, collections systems. Because of these new regulations, hundreds of landfills are closing, and fewer and larger privately owned landfills are remaining open. Fewer landfills results in increased transportation costs. As of now there might not be scarcity in land for new landfills, but new landfills are being created large distances from population centers. “Long hauling and disposing municipal solid waste at distant landfills is already costing some cities on the West and East coasts between $40 and $70 per ton.”2 These privately owned landfills may increase these costs. Studies show that privately owned landfills are much more expensive than publicly owned landfills by twenty percent, and publicly owned ones provide greater control over disposal activities. This all means that the existing landfills are “a precious possession” and recycling extends their lives.2 Although lack of land is not currently the problem for new landfills, communities do not exactly want to be “dumped on.” Therefore, a policy that “reduces the burden on the environment and on local communities from the transportation and dumping of trash” should be put into place.2

Incinerators are very expensive and recycling would be much more cost effective. “Tip fees at incinerators built between 1989 and 1993 average $60 per ton.”2 Incinerators built more recently have had to lower tip fees simply to compete with other disposal facilities. Montgomery County, Maryland is a great example of the how expensive the option of incinerators is. Montgomery County had to raise taxes to property owners just to “cover the operating costs of its newly built incinerator after it lowered the facility’s tip fees in order to attract waste.”2 [6] 

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Claiming that landfills and incinerators are more environmentally sound is not a valid argument. Even the best landfills contaminate groundwater from eventually leaking. As far as incinerators are concerned, “thirty percent by weight of trash entering…exists as ash.”2 This ash is a waste that contains high levels of toxic residue. Furthermore, they emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other acid gases that landfills do not. One study found that Florida’s largest incinerators were burning significant amounts of recycling materials. This is due to the fact that contracts are requiring governments to bring a certain amount of waste to incinerators. These contracts are posing a major disincentive to maximize recycling or waste reduction programs.2 In summary, although landfills and incinerators may have some benefits, they are preventing us from moving forward and implementing more environmentally friendly and cost effective methods. We need to plan for the future because what is cheap and easy now will not be in the future. It is much easier to prevent a problem, then to fix the problem once it is already out of control.

The next myth about recycling is that landfills are significant job generators for rural communities, and recycling programs would take these jobs away. However, the fact is that “recycling creates many more jobs for rural and urban communities than landfill and incineration disposal options.”2 Simply sorting the recycled materials alone would provide ten times more jobs than landfilling. The biggest pay-off though is making new products from the old products. So many aspects of the recycling process provide thousands of jobs. ‘New recycling-based manufacturers employ even more people and at higher wages. Recycling-based paper mills and plastic product manufacturers, for instance, employ 60 times more workers than do landfills. Product reuse also sustains significantly more jobs than disposal options. Computer refurbishing repair, for example, creates 68 times more jobs than landfills.”2 [7] There are 25.5 million tons of durable goods discarded into the landfills in American each year. If just half of them each year were reclaimed through reuse, over 100,000 new jobs in the recycling industry would be created alone.2 “Recycling is entirely sensible from an economic standpoint.”3

There are doubts about just how willing citizens would be to adapting a new waste disposal method. As we can see from this problem, it is evident that many households do not recycle at all. It is a valid point to question, would people even go along with a mandatory program? The answer, through polls, is yes. A survey conducted with Wisconsin residents discovered that ninety-six percent responded that they believe “their recycling efforts are worthwhile.”3 Although some may argue the statistic would be lower across the board of the United States, a number that high is very promising. It does not seem difficult to educate people on the environment so they understand why it is necessary for a program.

Regardless of the doubts some people may have, a recycling program is extremely necessary for the people, the United States, and the whole planet. The benefits of recycling should diminish any doubts. Arguments against a program have all been proven to be weak arguments and even the biggest issue of economics has been addressed. It is a much better choice financially to implement a full recycling procedure. In a world where “global warming” and “going green” are common terms in the English language, everyone should be able to say they are doing something to help. Everyone should be able to say they are recycling.


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