Recycling Mythbusters: Recycling vs. Landfilling

March 4th, 2014 | Kyle Reed

By Mythbuster Amanda Abbott

Who are the Recycling Mythbusters?

We are Kyle “Reedcycler” Reed, Amanda “Jill of All Trades” Abbott and Rachel “Waste Watcher” Tholl. This term we will be introducing you to some recycling-based myths, and busting them so you don’t have to.

From left to right: Amanda Abbott, Rachel Tholl, and Kyle Reed.

From left to right: Amanda Abbott, Rachel Tholl, and Kyle Reed.

Together we are the Recycling Mythbusters.

We don’t just tell the myths, we put them to rest.

Myth: Recycling doesn’t benefit the environment any more than landfilling does.

As a special treat for our final segment of the Recycling Mythbusters series, this week’s blog will be in video format! A transcript of the video may be read below:

Click on the image to watch this week's Recycling Mythbusters blog.

Click on the image to watch this week's Recycling Mythbusters blog.

A)  Glass is an interesting one to take a look at.  It really depends on where you are.  Some places take glass, crush it down, and use it as a base for roadways.  This isn’t really recycling it, but it’s got to be better than just dumping it in a landfill.
(Illustration: broken glass in a landfill, as a layer on a road)
K)  You’re right, but what about places that DO recycle it?
A)  Places that recycle glass do so by breaking it down into cullet, or basically broken glass.  For every 10% of cullet that is used in glass creation, the energy costs decrease 2-3%.  So by using 50% cullet, you can make more than 10% more bottles for the same energy cost!
K) So it isn’t much, but Glass is definitely busted!

Transcript

Amanda) We’re here today to look at the myth that it’s better to throw things away than actually recycling them, based on the costs of doing so. What do you think, Kyle?
Kyle) Oh, I definitely think that’s going to be busted, you?
A)I don’t know, I mean, I think they might have something, at least for some types of material. Maybe plastic?
K) Yeah, you’re right, we should probably break this down into smaller parts, and take a look at glass, paper, plastic, and metal, and see what kind of numbers we get.

Paper

paperA) Paper products are recycled by being pulped down, and remade into a lower quality paper product.  So for example, what started as a high quality piece of printer paper might then be turned into a cardboard box, then into a newspaper, and finally into toilet paper, depending on a variety of factors.
Using old paper instead of new wood can save a bunch!  Recycling one ton of paper, the amount one person uses in two and a half years, saves 17 trees and 7,000 gallons of water!
A) And that’s not all: Recycling is better monetarily as well. It costs $15/ton more to landfill paper trash, than it does to recycle or compost it. Paper is definitely busted.

Plastic

A) Plastic was the one I thought might be confirmed, but actually, it’s a lot harder to find the benefit with this one.  Like paper, plastic can be broken down into levels of quality. This can be both the numbers that you sometimes see, but also plastics without a number, like plastic wrap.

plastic-shapes-accepted-examples

A) Plastics like plastic bottles are well worth the recycling effort.  For example, the state of Oregon has a deposit on beverage bottles, to help ensure that they are recycled in the community.
A) Other types of plastic, not so much.  The cost to recycle some types of hard plastic means that many places just don’t do it.  It isn’t worth the cost, and while 4% of our energy use in the united states is in refining plastic, many hard plastics aren’t worth the money to do so.
A) So we’ll call it plausible.  Depending on your type of plastic, it might not be worth the money to recycle it.  That being said, if you can recycle it, you should.

Metal

household scrap metalA) Metal is an interesting one, as it is a non-renewable resource, which can run out.  While this alone is reason enough to recycle it, let’s take a look at the costs associated with it.
A) Aluminum cans, one of the most common items, have an incredible energy difference.  For each can recycled, enough energy is saved to power a computer or television for 3 hours.  That’s about a 95% energy savings over creating a new can.
A)Metal? Busted without a doubt.

Glass

glass

A) Glass is an interesting one to take a look at.  It really depends on where you are.  Some places take glass, crush it down, and use it as a base for roadways.  This isn’t really recycling it, but it’s got to be better than just dumping it in a landfill.
A)  Places that recycle glass do so by breaking it down into cullet, or basically broken glass.  For every 10% of cullet that is used in glass creation, the energy costs decrease 2-3%.  So by using 50% cullet, you can make more than 10% more bottles for the same energy cost!
A) So it isn’t much, but Glass is definitely busted!

Conclusions

And with that, we wrap up the final myth for our Recycling Mythbusters series. Thank you for joining us on this journey of fixing falsehoods and misconceptions. If you missed a week, you can view any of the previous blogs here. And be sure to tune in next week, where we’ll meet the Recycling Mythbusters themselves.

This post is part of our “Recycling Mythbusters” blog series, where we focus on busting common misconceptions about recycling. Tune in every week to learn more.



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