While recycling bins and scrap yards have been mainstays of daily life for years, sustainability matters now more than ever. Landfills are full to bursting, and we can no longer ignore the finite nature of our natural resources. An increased commitment to recycling not only preserves the materials themselves, but also reduces the need for non-renewable resources such as petroleum that make production processes possible. Look over the most important materials to recycle and challenge yourself to commit to a more sustainable world.
This should be obvious to any former student who was ever admonished to “save a tree” before getting out a fresh sheet of notebook paper. Recycling paper means not just saving a tree, but saving valuable water and petroleum as well. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that a single ton of recycled paper spares as many as 17 trees, nine barrels of oil, and 7,000 gallons of water. Keeping more trees in the ground and burning less fuel is key against the ever-encroaching threat of climate change.
It’s terribly easy to toss your empty can in the trash when you’re done. Fortunately, it’s just as easy to dispose of them in a dedicated receptacle for aluminum cans and keep that important metal from ending up in landfills. Recyclers consider aluminum quite valuable due to its resistance to corrosion, its high malleability and ductility, and its very low weight. Making new cans out of old ones means we don’t have to mine more aluminum.
Let’s scale up from small consumer products to the big-ticket items. Your old car or truck isn’t just worth a few dollars to you at salvage—it’s also deeply important to the auto manufacturing sector to keep those materials circulating. In the United States, up to 80 percent of every “new” car is made of recycled materials. The steel that went into one car goes on to create another. Old upholstery finds new uses and even pulverized and detreated windshield glass reappears in new panes.
Whether they’re windshields or old-fashioned milk bottles, preserving raw materials is crucial. Glass is among the most important materials to recycle. A glass-recycling program provides a two-pronged approach to increased sustainability: it takes considerably less energy to recycle glass than to process new glass, and keeping glass out of landfills.