The concept is simple: recycling
turns materials that would otherwise become waste into valuable resources. The collection
of used bottles, cans, and newspapers for recycling, however, is just the first in a chain
of events that generates a host of financial, environmental, and social returns that are
realized on both a local and global scale.
This wide mix of benefits constitutes recycling
value. On the financial side, recycling offers a cost-effective method for managing
municipal solid waste(MSW). In some cases, communities can even save money by implementing
recycling programs. Madison, Wisconsin, for example, tripled its recycling rate while also
decreasing the net annual cost of solid waste services per house-hold. The city's
recycling efforts reduced the number of garbage routes needed and helped hold landfill
tipping fees in check.
Recycling is more than just a way to manage
solid waste. It also provides the raw materials many manufacturers need to stay in
business and remain competitive. The paper industry, for example, is just one sector of
the U.S.economy that depends on recovered materials. The use of recovered paper at
domestic mills, for instance, is growing more than twice as fast as the use of virgin wood
fiber. The U.S. paper industry will spend more than $10 billion in the next decade on new
or expanded recycled paper mills.
Recovered materials play such a vital role in
manufacturing, they are valuable commodities that represent an essential component of
today's marketplace. In fact, the 56 million tons of materials recovered in the United
States in 1995 through recycling (including composting) had a total market value of more
than $3.6 billion. Recyclables are even traded as commodities on the Chicago Board of
Trade Recyclables Exchange.
Recycling contributes significantly to job
creation and economic development. A 1995 recycling employment study for the state of
North Carolina, for instance, documented that recycling industries support more than 8,800
jobs in the state, most of which are in the private sector. A study of 10 northeastern
states found that processing and remanufacturing recovered materials in the region added
more than $7.2 billion to the value of the materials. In addition to providing economic
benefits, recycling offers many environmental benefits.
By reducing our reliance on virgin materials,
recycling reduces pollution, saves energy, mitigates global climate change, and reduces
pressures on biodiversity. When products are made using recovered rather than virgin
materials, less energy is used during manufacturing, and consequently fewer pollutants are
emitted. In saving energy and reducing air and water pollution, recycling also reduces
emissions of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.
Some communities are starting to see the full
range of recycling benefits and factor them into their solid waste management decisions.
The town of Brook in Alberta, Canada, for example, used a ranking system to look at the
environmental, health, and societal impacts, in addition to the monetary costs, of
expanding its recycling program.
In the end, the total benefits reaped by the
recycling program resulted in its expansion. For more information on the benefits of
recycling, see Puzzled About Recycling Value? Look Beyond the Bin, a new EPA publication
(EPA530-K-98-008) available from the RCRA Hotline at 800 424-9346.