The recycling rate in the United States falls far behind many other countries, largely due to a lack of awareness among Americans about what can be recycled and how to properly collect recyclable materials. Consequently, individuals often make mistakes when approaching recycling bins or become disinterested or skeptical about the process. To foster a better understanding of recycling, including the materials that can be recycled and the impact of recycling on the economy and the environment, it is essential to delve into each type of recyclable material.
Every hour, approximately 2.5 million plastic bottles are discarded in the United States. Surprisingly, recycling just five plastic bottles can yield enough fiber to create a square foot of carpet or fill a ski jacket. Recycling plastic also conserves energy, with a single ton of plastic bottles saving the equivalent energy consumed by a two-person household over an entire year.
The energy saved from recycling a single aluminum can power a television for three consecutive hours. Despite this, Americans dispose of enough aluminum every three months to construct an entire commercial air fleet for the country. Each person has a significant opportunity to reduce this waste, as the average individual can recycle over 25,000 cans throughout their lifetime. Recycling aluminum not only minimizes landfill waste but also conserves water and energy, requiring 95 percent less energy and water compared to producing a new can.
Recycling a stack of newspaper measuring three feet tall can save one tree. However, Americans discard enough office paper each year to build a twelve-foot wall stretching from Seattle to New York. Although 37 percent of the fiber used in U.S. paper production comes from recycled sources, paper recycling rates remain inadequate. Enhancing paper recycling rates can help reduce air pollution significantly, as manufacturing paper from recycled sources reduces air pollution contributions by 95 percent.
Glass possesses the remarkable ability to be recycled and remanufactured indefinitely without degrading in quality. Nevertheless, more than 28 billion glass bottles and jars end up in landfills annually, enough to fill the Empire State Building twice every three weeks. Recycling a single glass jar conserves enough energy to power an 11-watt CFL bulb for 20 hours, while using recycled glass to produce new items reduces water pollution by 50 percent.
Over 90 percent of all products shipped in the United States are transported in corrugated boxes, resulting in the annual usage of over 400 billion square feet of cardboard. Thankfully, nearly 80 percent of retailers and grocers recycle their cardboard, leading to energy and oil savings. Recycling cardboard requires only 75 percent of the energy needed to produce new cardboard, while recycling one ton of cardboard can save 46 gallons of oil.