Fighting Climate Change: Does Recycling Help?
Most people relate the word "horror" to a scary movie on Netflix or a frightening scenario in their personal lives. However, climate change is the horror of horrors because it alarmingly drives our planet towards a scary permanent change.
Climate change means trouble to our world, from unpredictable weather to record-breaking disasters that occur year after year. Brutal, climate-related wildfires. Never-before-seen floods in different regions. Extreme drought in the Southwestern United States. Unprecedented, life-threatening heat waves, and so on.
These catastrophes are sounding an alarm to humanity. Unless we start acting responsibly and mitigate climate change, climate-related disasters will pile up and worsen with time.
How can you help reduce climate change? Can recycling help?
Understanding Climate Change (And Why Recycling Is a Real Solution)
Our planet's atmosphere has various gasses, including those scientists call "greenhouse gasses" (GHG). GHG include:
- Carbon dioxide
- Nitrous oxide
At the normal level, these gasses control climate by trapping the sun's warmth in the atmosphere, a process scientists call the greenhouse effect. However, excess GHG holds excess warmth that raises temperatures beyond normal, causing global warming.
As a result, increased GHG concentration in the atmosphere is a massive threat to the world and the life in it. Human existence, wildlife, water bodies, and forests are susceptible to the effects of global warming.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), excess greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere (hence increased level of warmth on earth) can cause the following:
- Increased spread of contagious diseases
- More frequent flooding of areas new large water bodies
- Irregular rainfall (and other precipitations) in different areas
- Fierce storms
The production, transportation, and consumption of certain human-made products—as well as handling the resulting waste—cause greenhouse emissions that affect the planet's climate. Recycling helps reduce greenhouse emissions to fight climate change.
The Link Between Recycling and Climate Change
Recycling helps fight climate change in two ways:
- Reducing the number of virgin materials (raw materials) used in manufacturing products
- Reducing landfill waste
Below, we explore how landfills and raw materials increase climate change and how recycling helps you make a big difference.
Understanding How Landfills Accelerate Climate Change
When we throw garbage in landfills, microorganisms such as bacteria break it down without oxygen. As a result, landfills emit large quantities of a greenhouse gas called methane.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, which can increase the heat trapped inside the atmosphere and significantly skyrocket the chances of global warming. According to the EPA, the gas's heat-holding power is 25 times higher than carbon dioxide.
The more garbage we throw into landfills, the more greenhouse gasses are emitted into the atmosphere through decomposition. And the higher the chances of a climate crisis.
Recycling reduces the garbage in landfills, minimizing greenhouse emissions. Even more, materials that would otherwise be combusted in incinerators and release greenhouse gasses can be reused to make other products.
Understanding How Raw Materials Dangerously Increase Climate Change
Obtaining virgin materials can accelerate the climate crisis. For example, extracting iron and copper requires a large amount of electrical energy. The electricity is most likely generated from coal-powered stations that emit greenhouse gasses.
Vehicles transporting raw materials to factories use fossil fuels, accelerating greenhouse emissions. Even more, the end product from the raw materials gets distributed through means powered by fossil fuels that increase GHG emissions.
Recycling reduces the need for raw materials, reducing climate change. Below is a deeper explanation of the role of recycling in fighting a climate crisis.
How Recycling Helps Fight Climate Change
Recycling is a powerful strategy for fighting climate change. It helps humanity fight the crisis in the following ways:
1. Reduce Greenhouse Gasses Emitted Through Energy Consumption
Recycling ensures items are reused instead of using fuel-produced energy to extract raw materials. This saves energy. Eventually, less energy is necessary to manufacture and distribute products, and fewer fossil fuels are combusted to reduce greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.
2. Minimize the Emission of Methane from Landfills
Recyclables make new products instead of getting disposed of in a landfill. As a result, recycling reduces the emission of methane that would occur if the materials decompose. Recycling also diverts materials from incinerators that would otherwise emit greenhouse gasses through combustion.
3. Increase Carbon Dioxide Absorption from the Atmosphere
Carbon dioxide is one of the naturally occurring greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. It can increase undesirable heat retention in the atmosphere in excess amounts. Recycling helps remove excess carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by increasing carbon storage in trees.
Naturally, trees take in and store carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. By recycling more paper products, fewer trees will be cut down, and more will remain standing to absorb carbon dioxide from the air.
Yes! Recycling Can Make a HUGE Difference in the War Against Climate Change
A circular economy is a restorative approach that considers waste materials resources for making new products. It focuses on recycling and making products less resource intensive. The circular economy has two main perks:
- Reduces the landfill waste
- Reduces the need for virgin raw materials to produce new goods
You can help fight climate change through resource recycling. Recycling ensures less virgin material is used, preventing emissions related to extracting and transporting raw materials. Every little bit helps.
Do the following to contribute to the circular economy and promote recycling for the sake of our planet:
- Buy recycled products: If recyclers lack a market for their products, they'll run out of business, and our planet will continue to perish. Purchase items manufactured from recycled material to support their market. Commonly used terms to identify recycled products when buying include "recyclable product," "recycled-content product," and "post-consumer content."
- Recycle. Recycle. Recycle: Recycle as many materials as you can. However, understand what you can and can't recycle. Plastic, metal, paper, and glass are typical recyclables. However, their condition might affect whether or not they can be recycled. For instance, you cannot recycle dirty plastic (with food debris)—you have to clean it before recycling it.
- Use LESS of disposable products: Doing so discourages the production of these commodities and ensures you generate less trash in landfills or incinerators.
- Replace disposable products with reusable ones (if possible): Reusable items reduce landfill waste.
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