Recycling – College Essay Essay

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To recycle or not to recycle that is an important question that we all need to ask

ourselves. As the population continues to grow and the earth gets more and more

crowded with people and their waste it becomes a major issue of whether there will be

enough space on the planet earth for future generations and their waste (trash) too. When

first beginning to collect trash and and counting the trash my attitude was – what

influence could my family make? But as I began to research recycling and how some

wastes pollute the environment my attitude took a change. The attitude turned more

toward concern than what or how much my waste contributed to the big picture.

Below is a chart reflecting the amount of trash that was counted and weighted

during a four-week period beginning the week of Monday, April 24, 2000 and ending on

These weights were rounded up to the nearest pound.

WeekAluminumOther MetalsGlassPlasticsNewspaperWhite PaperOther PaperFood Prducts and Lftovrs

The Orrs household consists of my wife and three children, ages 9, 5 and 2 (3

boys and 2 girls). During the first week of my collection the oldest child was visiting her

grandparents, which I thought would have made a difference in the amount of trash that

the Orrs would accumulate. There was a major surprise to the household of how much

food waste accumulated over a week, and how the numbers of plastic and glass were

almost equivalent. The food waste can probably be attributed to the fact that Mrs. Orr still

cooks for five people and the children never really eat all their food. When raising three

children you get into a pattern and it has been hard for my wife to change that pattern as

far as the amount of food that is bought and the amount of food she cooks at any one

time. The newspaper was not a great surprise because each week the household receives

the same number of papers, the O’Fallon journal daily, the Sunday Post Dispatch, two

journals and some weeks the papers varied in size. Depending on the media. The large

amount of other paper came as a major shock, This consisted of some color paper and

disposable diapers that the youngest child uses. A lot of this was various bits of junk

mail that is received weekly that was not be counted as white paper or in the newspaper

Paper napkins and towels also added to the grand total, as well. There was a lot

of white paper that was collected, but this was during the time when the computer was

being used a lot due to the youngest daughter and her book report and most of the mail

The first week I weighed two pounds of plastic. This pound consisted of two

Pepsi bottles and water bottles. After the first couple of days, it became more aware of

how much water that was being used and the solution to this was reusing the same

bottles instead of throwing the empty ones out, which also saved money.

The researching period of recycling and learning what all the waste is doing to the our

Planet, was when the biggest concerns became aware of the amount of other trash that

was counted. Because this is the type of trash that cannot be recycled easily.

The disposable diapers and the sanitary products are a major concern because this type of

waste goes directly into a landfill. When further research on the disposable diapers, it

was surprising to find that the disposal of the diapers is not causing the controversy, that

it did several years ago. “According to one study it was found that disposable diapers

cause more trash but cloth diapers use more energy…” (Samuelson 143 – 144).

This would mean that no matter what you use that you are still causing some

damage to the environment in one way or another (The Orr family goes throught about

four diapers a day). You could apply this same thought for the sanitary products that they

would be just as hazardous to the dumpsites as the disposable diaper would be. “Even

though today there are many things in a landfill that are more dangerous than the

disposable diaper they are still causing problems because of the plastic liners…” (Lee

37). But because of the new landfills that are being built today this is becoming less of a

problem. The waste is unable to reach the ground water or the surrounding soil,

“Because of the different types of waste that humans produce and because

each requires a little bit different type of disposal it is often confusing and expensive to

recycle…” (Bay 6). In the United States more waste is produced than in any other

country in the world. The statistics vary from publication to publication.

“American’s throw out 16 billion disposable pens, 240 million tires, 2 billion

disposable razors and about 18 billion disposable diapers…” (6). In addition to this we

could rebuild the commercial airplanes every three months with all the aluminum that is

discarded annually (6). “According to another source over a year’s time the amount of

trash discarded by weight is “40.2% paper; 7% glass; 8.6% metal; 8.1 % plastics; 8.3%

rubber, leather, cloth, and wood; 6.8% food waste, 17.7% yard waste; 3.2%

miscellaneous…” (Foster 6). The graph below shows how my collections coincide with

the averages – paper is the highest with a combined total of newspapers (50 pounds),

other paper (37 pounds) and white paper (an average of .025 pounds) for a grand total of

One of the biggest reasons that the accumulation of waste in the United States has

gotten out of hand is the growing number of people residing in this country. “Even if the

amount of trash remained the same amount per capita, the amount of trash would still

increase just because of the population increases…” (Lee 14). Another reason for this is

the lifestyle that Americans have become accustomed to living. The American people

have just abused the surroundings and taken so much for granted. “We have

become a nation hooked on the convenience of disposable items” (14). The waste

problems that we are facing today began during the economic boom following World

War II. “With more money to spend Americans were more than happy to spend some of

it on convenience…” (Enger, Smith 359).

Not only are the products that we are using and throwing away a problem but

also the packaging that these products come in adds to the accumulation. Everything out

there comes in a package, be it plastic, cardboard, paper bag, or Styrofoam carton; jars

and glass bottles and even metal containers (Lee 14). Even though this packaging is

needed to keep the product clean and in good condition, some of it is not necessarily

needed or it could be used in a way to keep the waste at a minimum (I 5).

“Waste is expensive – it costs time, energy, and space, as well as money…” (James 15).

Waste is a natural part of nature’s recycling system. When plants and animals

die they decay and decompose and become part of the earth after worms, maggots,

fungi and bacteria break it down. Waste streams turn into many different forms; “it can

become part of the soil or maybe a river, where it is used again by growing plants and

animals. This is a natural process and it is a never-ending cycle…” (James 6). A good

example of this process of death, decay, new life, and growing would be compost

heap. “Compost heaps are valuable because they rot down garden waste, as well as

vegetable peelings and waste food and produce humus” (6). The humus is then worked

back into the soil where it helps with new growth and improves the texture of the soil (6).

You can easily reduce the volume of material a household sends to a landfill by half if

you would if one would use a compost heap (The Consumer Recycling Guide 7).

Because nature deals with waste efficiently it becomes a resource because it is used over

and over again. People on the other hand can be very inefficient at handling waste. Even

though the Earth can handle some waste that humans produce, the large amounts that

humans throw away is causing an overload on the entire system. The problem is

exaggerated because much of what humans produce is not biodegradable and it does not

decompose very easy. “When products made of glass or tin do not decompose or

sometimes taking years to decompose they can cause pollution to the environment…”

What do these pollutants do to the Earth’s environment? The definition of

pollution is the changing of a natural environment, either by natural or artificial means,

so that the environment becomes harmful to the living things normally found in it

Pollution also stops the Earth’s natural cycle of breaking things down into reusable

elements (9). So by adding to landfills or dumping waste into the oceans or rivers we

are changing the composition of the Earth’s natural ability to change the waste matter

There are many different types of waste on Earth in addition to the trash and

garbage from our homes. There is industrial waste from factories, as well as sewage that

comes from many different sources. There is waste that is produced on farms from the

use of fertilizers and pesticides that are used to help in the production of the foods that

are ate. The chemicals used are to help in the yield of a better crop but they also cause

pollution. When these chemicals in the form of fertilizers and pesticides are sprayed the

wind and rain can carry the chemicals into the air and waterways. Fertilizers contain

nitrates, which have been known to cause a very wide range of health problems.

The waste from the farm animals is another concern because of the great amounts being

produced today does not decompose fast enough and is washed into the rivers and

streams or underground into the water supplies. “When the pollution enters the water the

process of eutrophication can occur. This process is caused when large quantities of water

plants like algae die and decay and the oxygen that keeps the fish and other living

things alive are used up…” (Becklake 15).

Solid waste can be disposed of in many different ways. The most common would

be that of a landfill. A landfill is where garbage is disposed of into holes in the ground in

order to take up as little space as possible (Becklake 11). Although landfills are one of the

rnost common and lowest cost alternatives to dispose garbage there are some drawbacks

to this method. One of the main drawbacks is that if the garbage is not treated before it is

dumped it can encourage the spread of rats, flies and other pests (Solid Waste 1)

“Another disadvantage is that when it rains or snows the water seeps into the materials

and dissolves them into leachate, which is polluted water…” (Becklake 11). This leachate

will seep into the ground and will at some point in time pollute the underground water

table that is sometimes the source of our drinking waters.

The leachate also pollutes some river and lakes. Some other disadvantage of

landfills is the gas that is produced by rotting garbage .This is mainly methane gas and

can be dangerous if it seeps into areas that are heavily populated (residential and business

buildings). These gases are also very dangerous once the landfill is covered because they

have the potental to cause explosions (12). In todays modern landfills these gases are ran

through pipes away from the landfill site and then used to produce natural energy (12).

“This energy then can be used for otherthings and it becomes less dangerous to the

environment…” (Bailey 14). Ammonia ia another gas that is in the landfills , although

this is not as dangerous as methane is does cause a terrible odor. Landfills are full of

billions of little living things called microbes or microorganisms that eat the waste

garbage that is dumped at the dump sites.

These microbes are able to eat their own weight in food every few seconds. The

microbes can be bacteria or fungi and even though we can not see them they play a very

important role in the cycle of life. Microbes play the same role in the landfill that they do

in your compost pile in the home. Because decomposition in a landfill takes so long

some of the bacteria responsible for breaking the garbage down need air to live and eat.

“So the process of decomposing takes a long time because the kind of bacteria that needs

no air or water are the only ones that can keep on working and much of the solid waste

stops decomposing altogether…” (Fosterl 8).

Burning or Incineration is another form of waste disposal and although this seems

like a good answer to the landfill waste crisis it too has many problems. The cost is one

of the highest forms of waste disposal, it can costs over three times more to burn garbage

than it does to dispose of it into a landfill. Then the problem is what to do with the ash

that is created, there is about one ton of ash for every ten tons of trash burned. This ash

could still contain materials that are harmful when the ash is buried. Dioxin from the ash

is a very hazardous material; it contains chlorine and is produced when paper and

chemicals are manufactured and when plastics are burned at low temperatures.

“Because the burning of waste causes smoke this causes another form of pollution and

that is air pollution from the gases that are produced by the burning garbage…”

(Becklake 12). However, the more modern incinerators of today are equipped to scrub the

smoke that contains the gases before they are released into the atmosphere. The new age

incinerators get much hotter than some of the older versions and are able to burn more

of the trash. “Because they are able to burn hotter it causes glass and ceramic to melt

and then crumble making it easier to dispose of the residue…” (Foster 23).

Because the biggest way to eliminate waste is to not produce it in the first

place “source reduction is becoming a popular means of disposing of trash before it

becomes trash…” (Enger, Smith 365). Packaging as mentioned earlier is a problem that

contributes greatly to the amount of waste that is produced daily so it is becoming

essential that manufacturers reduce the amount of materials used in packaging. Some

of the ways this is being accomplished is to convert to plastics and lightweight aluminum

by reducing the thickness of these products. The plastic milk containers weight almost

half of what they weighed when they were first introduced into our society. Aluminum

cans are also being produced lighter than they have been in the past. By making these

products in concentrated form business manufacturers are reducing the amount of

packaging it takes to pack detergents and other cleaning products. Some of the many food

products, such as juices are being sold in this form too. But like anything as humans in

order for this to work the consumers must want to take care of the enviroment,ultimately

favering products sold this way. “Many communities are starting municipal composting

programs to keep yard waste out of landfills…”(366).

Waste can be disposed of by recycling. Although the solid waste is not really

disposed of the waste in the true sense that you burn it or bury it the waste is being

changed to another usable form. “Recycling has become more popular throughout the

United States in the last ten years…” (366). Even though recycling has become more and

more popular this form of waste disposal seems to have problems. One of major

problems is the need for the separation. “This is very costly if done by hand, after it is

collected and it seems that most people feel that it is inconvenient if done at home…”

(Lee 69). This inconvenience is one of the biggest reason more people

chose not to recycle, people do not who really want to go to the trouble of sorting garbage

into recyclable and non-recyclable bins ? It seemes that it is inconvenient to rinse out

cans and to get them ready to be recycled. As society changes “some states are making it

mandatory to recycle because lawmakers think that this is the only way that you can

change the behavior of the residents…” (69).

Other problems encountered with recycling is that the demand for recycled

goods have not yet met the demand. So if there is not a market for these products the

efforts taken to recycle have been in vain The inconsistency in the market is another big

problem. One example of this would be used newspapers. “At one time they were so

plentiful that brokers were paying to have them hauled away…” (69). The reluctance of

some industries to use recycled products is another strike against recycling. Previously

egg cartons and meat-packaging trays were made of pulp and could be made of a very

low grade of paper that could be made from recycled paper. “But because these

products are now packaged in plastic foam containers the market for paper has

dropped…” (70). Other problems associated with recycling are either of the economic or

technical nature (Enger, Smith 367). Plastics are one particular concern because even

though the plastics used are recyclable the methods of recycling vary from plastic to

plastic.“Because they each have their own chemical make-up they cannot be recycled

together thus becoming very costly…” (367).

Even though these problems exist there are still many benefits from recycling.

When recycling about a ton of paper you can save: “7953 gallons of water, 463

gallons of oil, 17 trees, 587 pounds of air pollution, 3.06 cubic yards of landfill space and

4077 K Watt-hours of energy (Environmental Paper 1). Although paper consumption has

increased significantly less paper is going to landfills because of recycling (2)

Newspaper is something that everyone should be recycling – it takes very little time and

effort to separate and because it is biodegradable it is relatively easy to break down to

Glass is another resource that is easy to recycle. If more people would recycle

glass, “pollution would be reduced by 14-20%…” (Environmental Glass 1). Glass never

wears out and it can be recycled again and again. Recycling a ton of glass could

save more than a ton of resources (1). When a ton of glass is produced from raw

material 384 pounds of mining waste is created (1). When you recycle glass you are

not only saving valuable resources you are also being taking care of the environment by

not producing more waste to be put in landfills.

There are still skeptics that don’t really think recycling makes a difference for

various reasons. “Recycling does make sense and does make a difference: Recycling

saves natural resources, saves energy, saves clean air and water, saves landfill space and

saves money and creates new jobs…” (Environmental Hows and Whys 1). All of these

reasons, make sense but the question is how much really does make a difference?

As mentioned before, The Orr family was one of those skeptics but after doing the

research for this paper they have changed their thought process and every little bit does

count. Even if it is one small piece of paper, newpaper, milk cartin, diaper or plastic bag

if it can be recycled, as the Nike saying says “Just Do It” because it leaves that much

more space for those things that are not, and it is needed. We do need a place for those

things too without causing any more havoc to our environment than we already have.

Bailey, Donna. What Can We Do About, Recycling Garbage. New York: Franklin

Beeklake, Sue. Green Issues, Thinking for the Future, Waste Disposal and Recycling.

“The Consumer Recycling Guide: Commonly Recycled Materials.” Internet. (Online).

17 Feb. 2000. hftp://www.obviously.com/recycle/guides/common.htmi.

Enger, Eldon D. and Smith, Bradley F. Environmental Science, A Study of

Interrelationships, Seventh Edition. Boston, McGraw Hill, 2000.

“Solid Waste, Encyclopedia Entry.” Inforplease.com. Internet. (Online). 8 March 2000

wysivyg://80/hftp://www.infoplease.com//ce5/CE048556.htmi.

“Environmental Systems of America, Inc., Recycling Hows and Whys.” Internet

(Online). 17 Feb. 2000. hftp:/Ienvirosystemine.com/howswhys.html.

“Environmental Systems of America, Inc., Recycling Myths.” Internet. (Online). 17

Feb. 2000. hftp://envirosysteminc.com/myths.htmi.

“Environmental Systems of America, Inc., Recycling Recoverable Resources – Paper.

Interne. (Online). 17 Feb. 2000. http://envirosysteminc.com/paper.html.

“Environmental Systems of America, Inc., Recycling Recoverable Resources – Glass.”

Interne. (Online). 17 Feb. 2000. http:/Ienvirosysteminc.comlm)dhs.htmi.

Foster, Joanna. Cartons, Cans, and Orange Peels, Where Does Your Garbage Go?

Gay, Kathlyn. Garbage and Recycling. Hillsdale, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, 1991.

James, Barbara. Waste and Recycling. Austin, Texas: Steck-Vaughn Library, 1990.

Lee, Sally. The Throwaway Society. New York: Franklin Wafts, 1990.

Samuelson, Robert J. Using Cloth Diapers Cannot Reduce Garbaqe. Ed. Bernards,

Neal, The Environmental Crisis. Opposing Viewpoints Series. San Diego, CA:

Greenhaven Press, Inc., 1991. 140-145.

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