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Overflowing heaps of humanities trash, razing the rainforests for rare resources, production prices spiraling to unprecedented levels. These are the rigid realities that face us if we don’t recycle.
In this report we will discuss with you:
I’m sure you all know, but what is recycling? It’s simply returning waste back into a usable material.
What you may not know, however, is how recycling works. We will walk you through the process on how we can all individually save our planet and economy.
If you happen to live in Racine, or a city like it, you’re likely already aware of how to recycle in your home. We all have city issued blue bins that we fill up and set on the curb come garbage day.
Being able to throw all types of recyclables into one bin is called single stream recycling. On the other side of the spectrum we have dual stream recycling, where the resident places paper and cardboard in one bin and everything else in the other.
My Recommendation: Residential collection programs should adopt or continue to use single stream recycling.
Being able to throw everything into one bin lowers the required understanding of the system and increases participation. The simpler something is, the less people will be frustrated with it.
Using single stream is also cheaper to collect, since one large bin as opposed to multiple bins requires less employees per truck (Androutsopoulos).
The downsides of single stream collection are that its more difficult to sort at the processing facility, and that if the “processed material” is contaminated, the company that bought it usually just trashes it.
If you have something that isn’t allowed in one of Racine’s bins, you have a couple of options. If you have computer or electronic wastes, you may bring them to a local Best Buy. Electronics are usually too complex to be recycled at a processing facility, and just get trashed. If you have an appliance such as a refrigerator, stove, or washing machine, you can take these to the facility on Pearl street, where they will take them at no cost. You could also leave them on the strip in front of your house and someone will likely pick them up and scrap them.
I mentioned that single stream recycling was more difficult to sort, but what really goes on at a processing plant? The process starts with everything going up an incline of rolling wheels. The paper and cardboard make it to the top of the incline while heavier objects such as cans and bottles fall through the gaps between the wheels. Workers then separate the types of paper and cardboard while looking for any contamination. The paper gets compacted into bales and is then sent through a hot water bath and de inker. This results in clean pulp with which you can make new paper products.
The metals and plastics run under a strong magnet which removes the iron and steel. These are then crushed into bales and shipped off to a foundry to be re-melted and reused.
The remaining plastic, aluminum, and glass are sent through an “air classifier” which picks up the lighter plastic and aluminum and lets the glass fall to its own area. The glass is then crushed and sorted by color, ready to be re-melted and reused.
Then the plastics and aluminum are sent through a special magnetic system that will take out the aluminum. Aluminum is simply baled and re-melted just like steel. Unfortunately, in most plants, the 6 types of plastic are painstakingly separated by humans. Depending on the markets demand, some of the plastics are saved and resold, while others are thrown away because they’re worthless to buy and ship. For instance, no one is going to pay to ships a whole semi-truck full of Styrofoam.
What isn’t appropriate to be recycled heads to a landfill. Thankfully modern landfills are leagues ahead of their predecessors. In the landfills of old, giant pits were dug in the earth, and anything and everything was dumped into them. These pits were then left to rot, rarely being covered in a layer of dirt to suppress the smell. Leachate, the juice from the rain mixing with the toxic trash, would usually leak into the groundwater and contaminate the drinking water supply. The built-up methane gas would also find its way through the ground and sometimes leak into someone’s house, making it a highly explosive environment.
Modern landfills have a layer of clay and plastic at the bottom, are covered on the top with plastic and soil, and have pipes to collect the leachate and vent the methane. Unfortunately, in the US, the methane is usually just vented into the open air or burnt off at the landfill instead of being collected as an energy source.
So how do various recycled materials get converted? Possibly the easiest material to repurpose is metals. Aluminum and steel are easily baled, melted down at a foundry and then resold back into the cycle. Recycled steel is all around us. Household appliances, automobiles, and building materials are common examples of uses for recycled steel. An estimated 85% to 90% of steel used today in the USA is recycled though, so chances are if its modern and from the USA, its recycled steel (curbsideriches101).
Aluminum is most often recycled in the form of cans. What do we make of these recycled soda cans? Well, we make more soda cans out of them! Other common things made of aluminum would be aluminum foil, some kitchen pans, and the screen on your windows or doors.
A plethora of products can be produced from recycled paper. Paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper can all be made from recycled paper. If we were to all switch to fully recycled paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper, we would save millions of trees (Maggret). Also keep an eye out for ‘natural’ colored variants instead of the bleached white ones, as bleached toilet paper has a big impact on our water’s toxicity.
Geronimo, Jaylyn. “Green Forest- Recycling Saves Trees.” Slideshare, 26 Nov. 2013, www.slideshare.net/jaylyn.b.geronimo1/save-paper-to-save-forests-ppt-2010-28654727.
Other products that can be made from recycled paper is cardboard, printer paper, newspapers, and egg cartons.
Glass is a wonderful material in the aspect that it can be endlessly recycled with no loss of quality. Bottles and jars perfectly make more bottles and jars. They’re easier to melt down than if a manufacturer were to make glass from scratch, and as such takes less energy. Recycled glass can also be used for sand blasting, tiles, and certain concretes (Recycling).
As there’s effectively 7 totally different plastics, there’s a whole world of applications for their next lives. Heavy plastics that take form of your milk jugs and detergent bottles may become new bottles, lawn furniture, or plastic lumber.
Grocery bags can be made into new bags, or they too can become plastic lumber. Drink bottles can turn into a variety of clothing items such as shirts, or the insulation in your jacket.
What I was unaware of however, is that there is something to do with Styrofoam. I was under the impression that it lasts forever, (true) had no subsequent uses, and was therefore evil. While it’s trickier to recycle than most materials, there are a couple of options. The best option would be to reuse it yourself. If you get a package that has foam peanuts in it, you can save them for the next time you need to ship something. UPS also accepts your peanuts if you don’t foresee yourself needing them. If you can’t get your hands on some packing peanuts, you could also chop up molded Styrofoam packaging into little chunks.
In some places, Styrofoam can be recycled, but Racine is not one of those places. It costs so much to recycle it that most cities don’t even bother. If you live somewhere that does recycle Styrofoam, it could be turned into plastic lumber or a hard plastic often used in kids’ toys (Kelly).
My Recommendation: Racine should follow in the footsteps of cities such as Seattle and San Francisco by banning Styrofoam in fast food containers.
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