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About 80% of what Americans throw away is recyclable, yet our recycling rate is just 34%. (Environmental Protection Agency)
More than ½ million trees are saved each year by recycling paper in Boulder County. (Eco-Cycle)
By recycling more than 57,000 tons of steel cans, we reduce greenhouse gasses equivalent to taking more than 21,000 cars off the road each year. (WM)
Recycling glass instead of making it from silica sand reduces mining waste by 70%, water use by 50%, and air pollution by 20%. (Environmental Defense Fund)
If we recycled all of the newspapers printed in the U.S. on a typical Sunday, we would save 550,000 trees—or about 26 million trees per year. (California Department of Conservation)
The energy saved each year by steel recycling is equal to the electrical power used by 18 million homes each year—or enough energy to last Los Angeles residents for eight years. (Steel Recycling Institute)
The total volume of solid waste produced in the U.S. each year is equal to the weight of more than 5,600 Nimitz Class air craft carriers, 247,000 space shuttles, or 2.3 million Boeing 747 jumbo jets. (Beck)
An average kitchen-size bag of trash contains enough energy to power a 100-watt light bulb for 24 hours. (Covanta)
The solid waste industry currently produces more than half of America's renewable energy, more than combined energy outputs of the solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and wind power industries. (U.S. DOE, Energy Information Administration)
Recycling 1 ton of paper saves 17 trees, 2 barrels of oil (enough to run the average car for 1,260 miles), 4,100 kilowatts of energy (enough power for the average home for 6 months), 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space, and 60 pounds of air pollution. (Trash to Cash)
Recycling just one aluminum can saves enough energy to operate a TV for 3 hours. (Eco-Cycle)
Glass can be recycled an indefinite number of times and never wears out. (National Recycling Coalition)
Making glass from recycled material cuts related air pollution by 20% and water pollution by 50%. (National Recycling Coalition)
If we put all of the solid waste collected in the U.S. in a line of average garbage trucks, that line of trucks could cross the country, extending from New York City to Los Angeles, more than 100 times. (Beck)
Five PET bottles (plastic soda bottles) yield enough fiber for one extra large T-shirt, one square food of carpet or enough fiber fill to fill one ski jacket. (National Recycling Coalition)
The average person has the opportunity to recycle more than 25,000 cans in a lifetime. (National Recycling Coalition)
Americans throw away enough office paper each year to build a 12-foot-high wall of paper from New York to Seattle. (National Recycling Coalition)
The average American discards seven and a half pounds of garbage every day. (National Recycling Coalition)
Once an aluminum can is recycled, it's back on the grocery shelf as another aluminum can in 60 days. (www.aluminum.org)
Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to rebuild our entire commercial air fleet. (www.aluminum.org)
Tossing away an aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of that can's volume of gasoline. (www.aluminum.org)
Enough aluminum cans were recycled last year to fill a hollow Empire State Building 24 times. (www.aluminum.org)
The 62.6 billion cans recycled last year alone would make 171 circles around the earth at its equator. (www.aluminum.org)
Nearly 120,000 cans are recycled every minute nationwide. (www.aluminum.org)
Over the past 10 years, the number of aluminum cans recycled has doubled. (www.aluminum.org)
More than one million tons of aluminum containers and packaging are thrown away each year. (www.aluminum.org)
Recycling 1 ton of aluminum saves the equivalent in energy of 2,350 gallons of gasoline. This is equivalent to the amount of electricity used by the average home over a period of 10 years. (www.aluminum.org)
By using recycled aluminum instead of virgin ore, aluminum manufactures save enough energy needed to supply electricity to a city the size of Pittsburgh for about six years. (www.aluminum.org)
In 2010, the amount of paper recovered for recycling averaged 334 pounds for each man, woman, and child in the United States. (www.paperrecycles.org)
Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space. (http://earth911.org)
Recycling a four-foot stack of newspapers saves the equivalent of one 40-foot fir tree, that tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year. (www.ohiobaler.com)
More than 37 percent of the fiber used to make new paper products in the United States comes from recycled sources. (http://earth911.org)
86 percent (approximately 254 million) of Americans have access to curbside or drop-off paper recycling programs. (http://earth911.org)
Every month, we throw out enough recyclable glass bottles and jars to fill up a giant skyscraper. (www.recycling-revolution.com)
The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. It also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials. (www.recycling-revolution.com)
Every year, Americans throw away enough office and writing paper to build a wall 12 feet high, stretching from Los Angeles to New York City. (www.fairfaxcounty.gov)Recycling 1 ton of paper uses 7,000 fewer gallons of water, saves 35% of the water pollution and 70% of the air pollution produced in making new paper, uses 4100 KWH less energy, and saves 390 gallons of oil. (www.ohiobaler.com)
If all the glass bottles and jars collected through recycling in the U.S. in one year were laid end-to-end, they would reach the Moon and half way back to the Earth. (www.fairfaxcounty.gov)
The volume of glass recycled by Americans in one year would fill New Jersey's Giants Stadium more than three times. (www.fairfaxcounty.gov)
Used plastic soda and juice bottles are used to make carpets, insulating materials in clothes and sleeping bags, strapping, scouring, pads, auto parts, paint brushes, bottles, and other things such as tennis balls! (www.fairfaxcounty.gov)
Recycling is the process of using discarded materials for new products, to prevent waste of potentially useful materials, reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials, reduce energy usage, reduce pollution, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Commonly recycled materials include glass, paper, aluminum, other metals, and plastics. In addition, we can recycle specific products such as fluorescent light bulbs, printer cartridges and household electronics. America's solid waste and recycling industry largely built and operates the infrastructure that enables this recycling in the U.S.
Recycling is one of the greatest environmental success stories, and Americans should be proud that today we recycle about three times as much of our waste as we did in the 1980s. Our recycling success is largely thanks to innovations by private sector recycling and solid waste companies.
America's solid waste and recycling industry is committed to helping communities continue to increase their recycling rates. Our companies are developing improved collection and sorting processes. They also are building bigger, more efficient recycling facilities with greater output by using advanced engineering and technology. And our companies continue to educate their customers on the benefits of recycling. Here are some of the innovations that have increased recycling rates and helped make recycling an economically viable option for most communities:
Curbside pickup programs have been extremely important to keeping recycling easy and convenient, increasing participation rates. According to the EPA, as of 2010, there were 9,066 curbside programs in the U.S., serving 70 percent of the population. In 1968, there were only two curbside programs (in Madison, Wisconsin, and San Francisco, California), and they only collected newspaper.
Single-stream recycling is another major innovation. That is where we throw everything—aluminum cans, cereal boxes, the daily newspaper and the margarine tub—into the same recycling bin, making easier for consumers to recycle. It has been proven that by keeping recycling easy and convenient to the average person, you increase participation rates.
Garbage and recycling trucks have become the most rapidly growing alternative fuel truck sector in the nation. By adopting innovations in garbage and recycling collection truck technologies, America's solid waste and recycing industry offers quality-of-life advantages to the communities and neighborhoods that they serve, such as using less fuel, reducing operating costs, and emitting less particulate matter and nitrogen oxide and helping improve air quality.
When recyclables are picked up they are taken to a materail recoveral facility (or MRF [rhymes with Nerf]), a recycling facility that receives, separates and prepares recyclable materials for marketing to end-user manufacturers. Material is sorted to specifications, then baled, shredded, crushed, compacted, or otherwise prepared for shipment to market. There are generally two kinds of MRFs. A clean MRF accepts recyclable commingled materials that already have been separated at the source from solid waste generated by either residential or commercial sources. A dirty MRF accepts a mixed waste stream and then proceeds to separate out designated recyclable materials for end-markets, while the balance of the mixed waste stream is sent to a disposal facility such as a landfill or waste-to-energy facility. As of 2013, there are 563 multi-material ("residential style") MRFs in the U.S., according to Governmental Advisory Associates, which publishes a database of MRFs. If you have a MRF in your community, you should call them up and ask them for a tour.
State-of-the-art MRF's are filled with really cool technology that largely automate the process of sorting and separating comingled recyclables. Improved sorting technology allows for cleaner sorting and less contamination, which yields commodities that bring premiums from manufacturers and re-processors, and thereby makes recycling more economically viable for more communities. These sorting technologies include:
Screens are used to separate out a lot paper and paper board. Improved metallurgy has strengthened the metal shafts used to construct screens and enabled manufacturers to widen screens. These wider screens are capable of processing more material. In addition, engineers have discarded round screen shafts in favor of square shafts, and the discs that the shafts turn have improved as well. These changes allow for faster, easier cleaning and removal of materials wrapped around the shaft. Plastic grocery bags have plagued the efficiency of most MRFs for years, but bigger, square shafts keep the line moving and improve productivity.
Optical ScannersOptical sorting technology has become faster and more precise in recent years. A MRF may have a number of programmable units capable of identifying plastic by their resin type and sorting these different plastics by blowing them off the line into the appropriate bunker or conveyor. Modern scanners have higher resolution than their predecessors and can identify smaller pieces of plastic like pill bottles where before they were limited to containers the size of a soda bottle. The more advanced systems are faster and also have more air nozzles, which increases accuracy. They can sort many more tons per hour than people with 96 to 97 percent accuracy.
Eddy current technologies are used to separate out aluminum containers by charging them with a field of electrons, which attach themselves to the cans and give them a negative electrical charge. A conveyor then can carry the cans across a negatively charged magnet, which repels the negatively charged aluminum container up and into a bunker. State-of-the-art eddy current technology can induce stronger charges in the aluminum and throw the containers farther, reducing the chances of cross contamination.