Over the past few years, the recycling system in Washington and across the United States has been under siege, with low commodity prices and restrictions on overseas exports of recyclables leading some people to question whether recycling is really worth it anymore. Well, we’re here to tell you that recycling is absolutely still the right thing to do. Even with the new challenges, recycling makes economic and environmental sense.
As the nation prepares to celebrate America Recycles Day on Nov. 15, Ecology is reminding Washington residents about the environmental and economic value that recycling brings. With all the changes going on in recycling today, it’s not always easy to find reasons to continue down a sometimes difficult path. So let’s take a moment to go over why recycling matters as much today as it ever has.
Recycling protects the environment by conserving natural resources and reducing the need to extract and process raw materials. Using fewer raw materials by recycling protects air and water, which keeps the environment healthy for people and animals. It also saves energy and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.
Many of the environmental benefits of recycling are commonly known. Recycling creates less landfill waste and reduces contamination risk to groundwater supplies. Recycling paper saves trees and forests. And recycling plastics means making less plastics to pollute our landscape and oceans. Recycling also benefits the economy. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Recycling Economic Information Report from 2016, there are 1.57 jobs, $76,030 in wages and $14,101 in tax revenues created for every 1,000 tons of material that is recycled.
The biggest challenge facing the recycling system today is eliminating contamination. Contamination happens when a material enters the recycling system that does not belong. Common contaminants include glass, garden hoses, plastic bags, lithium batteries, food or liquids, or when the right materials are prepared the wrong way, such as recyclables stuffed into plastic bags or food left in containers. Contamination can also occur when potentially recyclable items are put into local recycling streams that can’t handle them.
It might not seem like a big deal, but imagine the worker trying to pick shards of broken glass out of a conveyor belt loaded with mixed paper and other materials. It quickly becomes far more effort than it’s worth — meaning that more material that could have been recycled — and should have been recycled — ends up going to the landfill.
Avoiding contamination doesn’t take a lot of work: Simply make sure all of the material you recycle is empty, clean, and dry.
Waste less, recycle better with Ecology's online resources
Recycling is a hobby for many Washington residents. Emptying a container until it is clean, and then sorting that dry recyclable into the appropriate bin so that it can be collected and turned into a valuable commodity is a process undertaken by millions of Washingtonians every day.
But even the most ardent recycler can get stumped once in a while. Can you put old Christmas lights into your commingled recycling bin? (Hint: No). Can your broken tablet be recycled at the electronics center along with computers and televisions (Hint: Yes).
For these questions and many more, Ecology has a variety of online recycling resources that can connect you with information and services to support your recycling habit:
1-800-RECYCLE is both a hotline (1-800-732-9253) and an online tool that connects you or your business to recycling services across Washington. This tool can help you find where in your community you can recycle everything from used appliances to leftover paint.
E-Cycle Washington is a free program that makes it easy for Washington residents to recycle their broken, obsolete or worn-out electronics. Electronic products contain valuable materials that can be recycled and toxic chemicals that should be kept out of the landfill. Items accepted include televisions, computers, laptops, monitors, tablets, E-readers, and portable DVD players. To date, E-Cycle Washington has collected almost 407 million pounds of used electronics.
LightRecycle Washington accepts fluorescent light bulbs — both the long tube kind and the twisty compact fluorescent bulbs — because they contain mercury, a potent neurotoxin. Washington state law requires that all mercury-containing lights be recycled, which includes both fluorescents and some high intensity discharge, or HID, lights. Although a single fluorescent light contains a very small amount of mercury, millions of these lights are sold every year in Washington state, raising the threat to harm human health and the environment if not properly recycled. Recycling these lights prevents the mercury from being released. The good news is that you can recycle these lights for free at hundreds of locations across the state through the LightRecycle program.
By Dave Bennett, Solid Waste Management