The Benefits of Recycling

Recycling bin in a NJ town

NEW JERSEY - A person finishes the last drop of water from their plastic bottle, and now, must dispose of the empty container.

Should this person choose to toss it in the garbage, the plastic never digests, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, and remains in the landfill indefinitely, or makes its way into other parts of the environment such as the world’s oceans or deserts.

Should a person select a recycling bin to dispose of their plastic bottle, the item instead makes a different journey.  The Pinellas County Florida Utilities website provides helpful information on their website about the life cycle of recyclables.  Click here for complete information.

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Recycled materials are first collected, next processed or recycled into new products, and then consumers purchase the recycled products.

“Merely collecting recyclables is not enough; we must buy recycled products in order to create markets,” the Pinellas County Florida website recommends.  One of their examples is recycled carpeting given a new lease on life by being made with plastic bottles.


Some Pros to Recycling

At one time, there was a debate, which was more affordable: to recycle or to not recycle?

According to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) website, there are environmental and economic benefits for recycling.  It has created jobs, reduced disposal costs for the consumer, and businesses, and reduced energy costs (the website shows in 2001, 128 trillion BTU’s of energy equated to a savings of $570 million).  

“History has shown that recycling benefits the consumer,” said Jeffery Bryk, Waste Management of New Jersey, Area Manager Public Sector.  “Recycling is a commodity.”

Waste Management, Inc., touts itself as “North America’s leading provider of environmental solutions.”  Their website states it is North America’s largest recycler, handling more than 7 million tons of recyclables in 2009; the company anticipates by 2020 it will handle 20 million tons annually.

The company’s website compared the amount of recycled material processed to fill 17,000 train cars or 115,000 Boeing 737’s, or, the Empire State Building 12.5 times.

“We’re not the traditional company, we’re an environmental solution,” stated Bryk.

Waste Management was ranked as one of the 2011 World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute, in the category of Environmental Services.  Bryk said Waste Management is not just about receiving trash and recycled materials, but uses trash items for alternative fuel solutions to feed their own facilities.

In New Jersey, Waste Management is the only company with a facility in all counties throughout the state.

Bryk said the disposal fee for every ton of trash averages at $97 per ton. Bryk said municipalities benefit by recycling, with a $100 per ton cost avoidance by recycling instead.   

Waste Management utilizes single stream technology to facilitate recycling for consumers and businesses, permitting recycled materials such as plastic and metal, into the same container.  Single stream technology saves consumers time and money; time, since the items can be placed in the same recycling receptacle for pickup, and money because there are fewer pickups. 

Single stream technology further equates to a reduced carbon footprint, since fewer trips are required to recycling facilities, which in turn lessens the impact on the environment.

And, recycling is kinder to the environment than trash disposal overall, which in some cases, has been relegated to various means of ridding of items, including incineration.

In addition to curbside pickup for recycling in many communities, Waste Management offers options in their “Think Green From Home” program, which provides special recycling kits for disposal of CFL and fluorescent bulbs; batteries; electronics and computers; bottles, cans, and paper; and syringes and lancets.  The recycling kits allow people to collect the items in their own home, and, for the cost of the container plus shipping via UPS or FedEx Ground, the items are shipped back to Waste Management for processing. 

Waste Management states some kinds of items, such as electronics and computers, contain hazardous materials, which when recycled, are processed in the United States by the company.  CFL and fluorescent bulbs contain mercury, which waste management can also help users dispose of properly through their recycling program.


Recycling in New Jersey

New Jersey passed mandatory recycling legislation in 1987 per the NJDEP website.  The New Jersey Statewide Mandatory Source Separation and Recycling Act mandated recycling in all of the state’s 21 counties.

See the state’s website for all details about recycling in the Garden State, click here.

On the state DEP website, there is a breakdown by county of items mandated for recycling. 

In all counties, aluminum cans, corrugated cardboard, certain types of plastics, glass containers, newspaper, and office paper must be recycled.  Other materials vary by county, based on what they can process.  Some may charge a fee for certain items, or limit the amount of accepted recyclables.  Contact your county’s recycling center for details.  The New Jersey DEP website lists websites for individual county recycling programs here

The website also breaks down the environmental benefits for the state.  In 2006, NJDEP figures indicate 12 million tons of materials were recycled.  That yields an increase in natural resource and energy conservation, and a reduction in air and water pollutants, and greenhouse gases.

What is the consequence for not recycling in New Jersey?  In addition to adding to the state’s landfills, and there are various enforcement techniques.  Municipalities have ordinances to direct residents and businesses how to recycle, and, the consequences if they choose not to.  Each county has its own recycling plan, as well.  NJDEP has a Solid Waste Enforcement Program at the state level, which regulates facilities, and transporters.  In 2005, the NJDEP made sweeps on Hudson and Atlantic Counties to crack down on entities not recycling within those counties, and, to bring them into compliance.


The Circle of Life For Recycled Materials

What happens to materials after they are recycled? 

For example, think of the plastic bottle mentioned in the beginning of the article. 

It heads to the recycling facility, and is then shipped out and sold to a company for remanufacture.  Bryk said Waste Management sends their plastics to North Carolina, and paper and cardboard overseas.

The Pinellas County Utilities website provides general information for each type of material, and what they can become in their next life:


Type of material            How it may live its new life

Aluminum cans            Can be made into a “new” can within 60 days.  Also transformed in lawn                   chairs, window frames, pie pans, foil, car parts, house siding.           

Newspaper                 “New” newspaper, game boards, animal bedding, puzzles, telephone books, egg cartons.           

Glass                        “New” jars and bottles, or tiles, road paving materials, marbles, jewelry, fiberglass insulation.  Glass can be recycled infinitely because it never loses strength.

Steel                  “New” cans, car parts, toys, appliances, fire hydrants, tools.  Steel is already comprised of 25 percent recycled material, and can infinitely be recycled like glass, since it never loses strength.

Cardboard            “New” boxes, brown paper bags, mailing tubes, paperboard.  Bryk said as boxes are recycled over again, they might become darker in color after subsequent recycling cycles.

Paper            “New” paper, tissues, toilet tissues, napkins, paper towels, cat litter, notebooks.  Paper is recycled five to seven times before losing strength, and is the top throwaway item in the United States, equating to one-third of the waste stream.

Plastic            “New “ bottles, carpet, park benches, clothing, flower pots, sleeping bags.


Controversy and Improvements

Some groups have emphasized where the costs outweigh the benefits.   The costs they have pointed out have not necessarily been monetary, but environmental, and humanitarian. 

Greenpeace has cracked down on developed countries exporting their e-waste to less developed countries.  According to Greenpeace, it is less expensive for countries to send their e-waste, such as old computers, to China, to remove the metals and hazardous materials from them.  China receives 90 percent of recycled e-waste from the United States and Europe.  Metals are extracted through smelting, releasing toxic fumes in the air.  There have been concerns about the impact on the overall health of workers and residents in the geographic region where this activity takes place. 

The United States EPA is encouraging companies to make their electronics more environmentally friendly, and for businesses and consumers to make more environmentally friendly choices when purchasing electronics.  The EPA has established guidelines through Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), to show consumers which computers have the least environmental impact.  An article in the Mother Nature Network indicates the Samsung Series 9 Notebook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pros, Toshiba Protégé R830 and R835-P70, and the Lenovo ThinkPad X200, as the most earth-friendly laptop choices, based on the EPA tool. 

Additionally, there is Federal Legislation now in process to govern e-waste disposal, the Responsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2011, which has sponsorship by both the House and the Senate.  It will be illegal to send e-waste with toxic chemicals to developing companies, and has garnered support from environmental groups, and major electronic manufacturers, which have banned export of their products to developing countries. 

Other environmental movements suggest not partaking in products that require recycling altogether.  For example, some towns have banned the use of plastic bags, or suggest consumers forgo that ubiquitous plastic drinking bottle overall, and get back to drinking from the tap, and toting their water in a reusable and washable container.

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