Why is recycling important and how does it benefit the environment?

Topics Discussed

What is the definition of ‘recycling’?

“Recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials and objects. The recyclability of a material depends on its ability to reacquire the properties it had in its virgin or original state”, according to Wikipedia.

Recycling helps to protect and sustain the environment

Recycled materials also help to protect, maintain and sustain the environment. By choosing to recycle you can help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that would normally arise via conventional human processes used during logging and other harmful activities. 

In particular, single-use plastic items are causing major environmental issues. Oceans and landfills are overflowing as a result of this toxic, plastic waste. Harmful gasses such as methane are released into the atmosphere once this waste is exposed to sunlight.

Plastic waste is broken down into tiny particles referred to as microplastics. When ingested, these toxic particles may cause damage to organisms throughout the whole food-chain. By choosing eco friendly products, we can help to prevent this type of environmental damage from occurring in the first place.

Recycling helps to preserve energy 

Recycled materials require significantly less energy in order to be produced in comparison to conventional, resource-intensive processes. These conventional extraction processes also cause political unrest and environmental damage, as a result of the controversy surrounding these activities.

Other factors such as logistics and transport costs should be taken into consideration when discussing the conventional processes necessary for the extraction of non-recyclable materials. 

Recycling helps to conserve the earth’s resources

By choosing to recycle used products and materials, we can help to reduce the depletion of earth’s natural resources (necessary for the creation of new products), by converting our used materials into new products with new use-cases.

The depletion of earth’s natural resources occurs through human-related activities such as forestry, mining, quarrying and logging), whereby natural resources are extracted, often resulting in environmental damage. By opting for sustainable products, we can lower our environmental footprint and also help to preserve resources for future generations to enjoy.

Why is it so important to recycle plastic?

In case you weren’t already aware (i.e. living under a rock), single-use plastic items are extremely problematic to the environment, since they take so long to decompose (if at all).

Here are some examples:

Single-use plastic bags (high-density polyethylene):

Can take up to 100 years before they decompose (different environmental factors contribute to the speed at which decomposing occurs).

Single-use plastic straws:

Can take up to 500 years to decompose.

Single-use plastic bottles (polyethylene terephthalate):

Can between 450 – 1,000 years to decompose – Plastic straws can take up to 500 years to decompose.

As outlined in the previous section, microplastics are often (mistakenly) ingested by marine life in place of food. This has a knock-on effect throughout the food chain, since these small creatures are then ingested by larger creatures (which can often end up being ingested by humans). 

The term ‘plastic-soup’ was coined as an analogy of the tiny plastic particles found in the ocean. It can take just one plastic bottle more than five times the average human life expectancy before it decomposes (if at all).

The impacts that plastic pollution is having on our ocean is clear for all to see. There are currently no natural processes in place that allow non biodegradable plastic to be absorbed back into the biological cycle. Therefore, it is safest to try to avoid using single-use plastics at all costs.

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