The United States is lagging significantly behind many other countries when it comes to its level of recycling. According to Recycle Across America, this is at least partially due to the fact that many Americans are still unsure about what can be recycled and how to go about effectively collecting their recyclable materials. As a result, many continue to make mistakes when they approach a recycling bin or they simply become apathetic or even skeptical about recycling. To help gain a better understanding of recycling, what materials can be recycled and how recycling those materials has an impact on the economy and the environment, it is helpful to look more closely at each type of recyclable material.
Approximately 2.5 million plastic bottles are thrown away in the United States every hour. Yet, recycling just five plastic bottles can provide enough fiber to create one square foot of carpet or enough fiber to fill one ski jacket. Recycling plastic also helps to save energy, as recycling one ton of plastic bottles saves the equivalent energy usage of one two-person household for an entire year.
Recycling just one aluminum can save enough energy to power a television for three hours straight. Nonetheless, Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to build an entire commercial air fleet for the United States. Each person has the opportunity to significantly cut down on this waste, with the average person having the opportunity to recycle more than 25,000 cans over a lifetime. In addition to reducing landfill waste, recycling aluminum also helps to conserve water and energy. In fact, it takes 95 percent less energy and water to recycle a can than it does to create a new one.
Recycling a stack of newspaper measuring just three feet tall is enough to save one tree. Yet, Americans throw away enough office paper every year to build a twelve-foot wall spanning from Seattle to New York. Despite the fact that 37 percent of the fiber used to make new paper products comes from recycled sources in the United States, we are still failing to recycle paper at a high level. Recycling paper at a higher rate can help to reduce air pollution, as making paper from recycled paper reduces the related contribution to air pollution by 95 percent.
Glass has the unique ability to be recycled and re-manufactured an infinite amount of times without ever wearing out. Nonetheless, more than 28 billion glass bottles and jars are placed in landfills every year. This is enough to fill the Empire State Building two times every three weeks. Recycling one glass jar helps to save enough energy to power an 11-watt CFL bulb for 20 hours while making glass from recycled material cuts water pollution by 50 percent.
With over 90 percent of all products shipped in the US is shipped in corrugated boxes, more than 400 billion square feet of cardboard is used every year for this purpose. Fortunately, nearly 80 percent of retailers and grocers recycle their cardboard, which helps to save energy and oil. In fact, recycling cardboard takes only 75 percent of the energy needed to make new cardboard while recycling one ton of cardboard saves 46 gallons of oil.