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Recycling Center: Close-Up
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Recycling Center: Close-Up

Tags: recycling, plastic, glass, paper, trash, aluminum cans

Posted November 15, 2011 by maryzakrasek

The Real Story of Stuff
If you want to really know what happens to stuff, visit your local recycling center...guaranteed to change how you think. 

What would you expect to learn from a field trip to one of our country’s top recycling centers? Probably how efficiently everything is sorted and how everything is being recycled and saved from the landfill. 

What I learned from visiting the Santa Monica Recycling Center with 48 first-graders was quite different. Before entering the facility, our host, Andrew, gave us a brief introduction and some sobering facts.

  1. The US has NO Recycling Policy....there are 10,000 landfills currently in operation...all with their own methods of dealing with trash
  2. The way materials are disposed of is a 19th century solution
  3. The #1 material that makes up landfills is Paper.  How much paper?   The US throws away enough paper every year to make a 12 foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City.

But, what Andrew talked about next is what resonated with me in a new way.
He took a piece of paper and asked, “What is used to make this?”

Answer:  “Trees!” Yes...Trees are cut down and the wood has to be turned into a liquid pulp....that is very difficult to do.  Did anyone drive through a forest to get here?  No?  

Yes, paper is very valuable.  

He took a plastic bottle and asked, “What is used to make this?
Answer:  “Oil”  

Yes...oil is taken out of the earth...that is very difficult to do and a resource we can’t replace.

Yes, a plastic bottle is very valuable. 

He took his gold wedding ring and held it up.  “What is used to make this?”
Answer:  “Gold”  

Yes...Someone has to mine deep in the earth to find this precious metal...then make it into a ring.  That is very difficult to do.  

And, that is why metal is so valuable.

Seeing Andrew describe materials this way when he wakes up each day to face monolithic mountains of valuable materials that are headed for the landfill clearly made a deep impression on everyone.

I don’t think there’s a way to comprehend the amount of materials that are coming in to these facilities...truck after truck....filled to capacity.  

The amount of paper and plastic is astounding: Do you know how much of a landfill is made up of paper? 40% 

And, tons of it gets buried just because it gets mixed in with food waste and can’t be recycled.  Most of it could be saved and re-used, if people just understood how valuable it is and took responsibility to make sure it gets to the right place.

The Good News:

The Department of Energy states that a ton of paper made from recycled fibers conserves 7,000 gallons of water, up to 31 trees, 4,000 KWh of electricity and up to 60 pounds of air pollutants (not including carbon dioxide).

Recycling just ONE aluminum can is the equivalent of keeping a 100-watt light bulb burning for approximately four hours or having the television running for three hours.

Recycling just ONE plastic bottle can save enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for six hours.

What can you do?

1.  Reduce - Stop Catalogs, Junk Mail and Phone Books:
Stop unwanted mail  
Control commercial mail
Opt out of Phone Books 

2. Re-Use - Make every day as Waste-Free as you can.  Here are some Ecology Shop favorites:
Eco Cup, Lunch Container, Bamboo Utensils, Water Bottle, Reusable Bag

3. Recycle
For local information:  

Recycling Events:
America Recycles Day is November 15th  Take the pledge

College Recycling competition registration November 7th through January 22, 2012


Can you guess how many bottles are in one of these this bales?   Would you believe 22,000?!