Indianapolis collects more than 24,000 tons of trash each month — but only 7 percent of it gets recycled.
Stephen J. Beard, firstname.lastname@example.org
Recycling can be a pain. You have to know your 1s from your 7s, you have to make sure they’re clean, and chances are you’re not looking forward to lugging another bin to the curb every couple of weeks.
So all that effort — is it worth it? Here are four reasons to feel better about adding another chore onto your heap of responsibilities.
It helps your local economy
Your recycled paper, bottles and cans may not look like much to you, but for an entire industry, it’s a commodity. Recycling in Indiana means more raw materials for our manufacturing sector — an opportunity that industry experts say only a few states enjoy.
Recycling is also considered a job creator. Getting trash to a landfill or incinerator is not labor intensive, especially when compared to all the jobs required to haul, sort, bale and process recycled materials. A 2013 report from the Indiana Recycling Coalition estimated that recycling creates 10 times as many jobs as sending waste to a landfill.
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It helps make sure we have resources for the future
Humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly over the past several decades than in any other time in history, according to findings from a report compiled for the United Nations. Resource extraction will continue to threaten air, land and water quality as the world’s population continues to grow.
Public officials and business leaders are beginning to realize that, in order to sustain modern society, we are going to have to reuse and recycle a lot more.
Consider aluminum as an example. It’s expensive to mine and easy to recycle. About 75 percent of all the aluminum that has ever been made into anything is still circulating in products today, which means your pop can has probably had a previous life.
Even materials that can’t be recycled indefinitely, such as plastic, have much longer lifespans as long as they’re recycled. That means less mining and drilling and more use for what we’ve already extracted.
“The good news is, there’s enough plastic, paper and metal out there, you can manufacture what you need from existing sources.” said Ron Gonen, co-founder of The Closed Loop Fund, which invests in recycling infrastructure.
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You have to pay to take it somewhere
The largest landfills in the U.S. span hundreds of acres, but even the smaller ones take up much more space than the typical recycling facility.
“If people want to use good land as a pit for people’s garbage, that’s their prerogative,” Gonen said. But he suggests that using land for a smaller facility, considering recycling’s economic benefits, would be a better investment.
Some critics say that recycling costs too much money, but those people are losing sight of one essential fact, Gonen said: You have to pay to take it somewhere, as tipping fees at landfills continue to rise.
In Indianapolis, residents pay as much as $99 per year to opt-in to the city’s recycling service. That appears to be a lot compared to the $32 annual fee residents pay for trash removal. But Betsy Whitmore, chief communications officer for the city’s Department of Public Works, told IndyStar that trash fee doesn’t cover the true cost of the trash service. The rest of the money is pulled from a fund that is expected to run out in a few years.
And yes, it’s good for the environment
In almost all ways, recycling is more efficient than making products from “virgin” materials.
Mining, drilling and logging require more energy than recycling, which can reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Recycling one ton of aluminum cans conserves the energy equivalent of 1,024 gallons of gasoline, for example.
Materials can also emit greenhouse gases after they’re thrown away. When biological materials such as paper and cardboard break down in landfills, they produce methane, a greenhouse gas with about 20 times the warming power of carbon dioxide.
One study estimated that paper and cardboard accounted for 22 percent of the total methane potential in a landfill. Recycling paper would reduce the amount of methane produced in landfills while also leaving trees standing to absorb carbon dioxide.
Emily Hopkins and Sarah Bowman cover the environment for IndyStar.
IndyStar’s environmental reporting project is made possible through the generous support of the nonprofit Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust.
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