Recycling. It’s one of, if not the, only way that the impact of excessive consumerism (or, for that matter, mild or moderate consumerism) can be curtailed. And while recycling has increased in the last decade, it’s still not anywhere near where it needs to be to create a reasonable and realistic carbon footprint for the world as a whole. As you’re setting your own recycling goals, consider all of the following facts.


Fact One: There’s A Lot of Room for Improvement

Over 75% of waste in the U.S. is recyclable, but only about 30% of it is actually being recycled. That leaves a lot of room to create more postconsumer materials out there!


Fact Two: Food Can Be Recycled, Too.

Just because something is food matter, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s trash that can’t be recycled. Composting food can reduce a significant amount of carbon emissions, especially given how much food Americans waste each year. How much exactly? Americans generate about 21.5 million tons of food waste per year. If all of that food waste were composted, it would remove the same amount of greenhouse gases as taking almost two million cars off of the roads.


Fact Three: Fall in Love with Aluminum

Stop! Think about the real life energy that you could create by recycling that aluminum beverage can that you’re drinking from. Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to listen to a full album on an iPod. Recycling a hundred aluminum cans can create enough energy to light a room in your house for an entire week. In fact, recycling aluminum is so efficient that recycling cans saves 95% of the energy that would be required to make them from new materials.


Fact Four: Pulp Fact

A ton of paper (and yes, paper is still used even with the rise of digital books and newspapers) from recycled material saves seventeen trees and uses fifty percent less water than making paper from virgin pulp does.


Fact Five: There’s Value in Your Trash

We don’t mean the antiques in grandma’s hidden hoarding stash (though those may have value as well). According to the Container Recycling Institute, the estimated thirty-six billion aluminum cans that make it into landfills each year have a scrap metal value of more than $600 million. It’s very possible that in the future we’ll find ourselves mining our own landfills for a resource we once casually threw away.


Fact Six: Trash as Your Body Weight

The average American throws away about 4.4 pounds of trash per day, or 30.8 pounds per week. At an average weight of 160 pounds, that means that the average American is throwing away over 18% of their own body weight in trash every week.


Fact Seven: Speaking of Digital…

We’re not going to pretend that digitizing doesn’t have its own carbon footprint, but when you think of the need for trees it’s compelling to think about digitizing. Each year, more than thirty million trees are cut down to create a year’s supply of newspapers.


Pro Tip: You can easily consume fewer digital resources. Here’s how.

 About Recycling

Fact Eight: Eat Oranges. Avoid Takeout.

Especially if your takeout comes in Styrofoam containers. It takes an orange peel six months to decompose. It takes 400 to 500 years for a Styrofoam cup to decompose.


Fact Nine:  Living in a Plastic World

Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour. The United States alone makes enough plastic film each year to shrink wrap the entire state of Texas. And significant reduction doesn’t take a huge choice about going entirely plastic free. If only ten percent of Americans bought products with less plastic packaging only ten percent of the time, about 144 million tons of plastic could be eliminated from landfills.


Pro Tip: Know the facts. This is how long it takes for a plastic bottle to biodegrade.


Fact Ten: We Can Do Better

The U.S. buried or burned more than 166 million tons of resources—paper, plastic, metals, glass and organic materials—in landfills and incinerators in 2008 alone.  As the population has grown, so has the waste generated by Americans. We can do better.


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Photo Credit: via Flickr