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Recycling Facts

May 14th, 2008 · 14 Comments

In this article we will be explaining about general recycling facts, recycling cell phones, recycling E-waste, metal, paper, plastic etc.

Recycling facts are often presented to provide accurate information about recycling and to encourage people to take action. Looking at these recycling statistics, we know that our individual act is contributing to the entire effort to recycle, conserve resources, and clean up the environment.

Conversely, recycling facts also serve to correct some people’s misconception about recycling. For example, some people believe recycling is more expensive than actually producing brand new materials. Others think it’s less energy-efficient and that recycling has no significant impact on environmental conservation. We’re presenting the facts about recycling here, both to inspire us all, as well as to to set the record straight about recycling, so to speak.

In this page, we shall explore:

  • General Recycling Facts
  • Facts about recycling Cell Phones
  • Facts about recycling E-waste
  • Facts about recycling Metals
  • Facts about recycling Paper
  • Facts about recycling Plastic
  • Facts about recycling Glass

Recycling Facts – General

  • The Washington, DC-based Institute For Local Self-Reliance calculates that recycling creates 36 jobs per 10,000 tons of material recycled compared to 6 jobs for every 10,000 of tons brought to traditional disposal facilities.
  • On average, it costs $30 per ton to recycle trash, $50 to send it to the landfill, and $65 to $75 to incinerate it.
  • Out of every $10 spent buying things, $1 (10%) goes for packaging that is thrown away. Packaging represents about 65% of household trash.
  • Between 5 and 15% of what we throw away contains hazardous substances.
  • The US population discards each year 16,000,000,000 diapers, 1,600,000,000 pens, 2,000,000,000 razor blades, 220,000,000 car tires, and enough aluminum to rebuild the US commercial air fleet four times over.
  • About one-third of an average dump is made up of packaging material!
  • This chart from the Environmental Protection Agency shows the different types of solid waste that we produce, every year:

Municipal Solid Waste Composition

Recycling Facts – Cell Phones

  • There are over 140 million cell phone users in the US today. On the average, each user discards an old or used phone in exchange for a newer model in between 14-18 months.
  • There are about 700 million used cell phones in the US today, with an estimated 100 million added every year.
  • According to a recent study by iSuppli Corporation, a market intelligence provider, only 9.4$ of Americans recycled their cell phones last year, 36.8% stashed their old phones in a drawer somewhere, and 10.2% actually threw their phones in a bin or delared these lost.

Recycling Facts – eWaste

  • “On average a computer is 23% plastic, 32% ferrous metals, 18% non-ferrous metals (lead, cadmium, antimony, beryllium, chromium and mercury), 12% electronic boards (gold, palladium, silver and platinum) and 15% glass.”
  • “Only about 50% of the computer is recycled, the rest is dumped. The toxicity of the waste is mostly due to the lead, mercury and cadmium – non-recyclable components of a single computer may contain almost 2 kilograms of lead. Much of the plastic used contains flame retardants, which makes it difficult to recycle.”
  • According to the US National Safety Council, there are now over 300 million obsolete computers in the US. It is estimated that there are over a billion personal computers in the world at present.
  • The Basel Convention or the Basel Action Network is working to prevent the dumping of hazardous e-waste from first world countries, like the US, to developing countries. Some countries (for example those in the European Union) have already implemented legislations supporting such ban.

Recycling Facts – Metal

  • Americans use about 80,000,000 aluminum pop cans every year.
  • During the time it takes you to read this paragraph, 50,000 12-ounce aluminum cans are made. 350,000 aluminum cans are produced every minute!
  • Aluminum in the US is used primarily to manufacture beverage cans, more than any other product.
  • Aluminum can recycling is the best closed-loop recycling example. Once an aluminum can is recycled, it can be part of of a new can in 2 weeks, and be back in the grocery shelf within 60 days!
  • An aluminum can may be recycled repeatedly. There is no limit to the number of times an aluminum can can be recycled.
  • Recycling one aluminum can saves enough energy to run a TV for three hours or a 100 watt light bulb for three hours – or the equivalent of a half a gallon of gasoline.
  • Because so many of these are recycled, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that aluminum cans account for less than 1% of the total solid waste that gets dumped into our municipal landfills.

And yet:

  • American consumers and industry throw away enough aluminum in a year to rebuild our entire airplane commercial fleet every three months.
  • An aluminum can that is thrown away will still be a can 500 years from now! Humans hundreds of years from now will study our age by the amount of preserved garbage we’ve dumped.

How about other aluminum products and metals?

  • Used aluminum beverage cans are the most recycled item in the U.S., but other types of aluminum, such as siding, gutters, car components, storm window frames, and lawn furniture can also be recycled.
  • Every ton of recycled steel saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,000 of coal, and 40 pounds of limestone.
  • A 60-watt light bulb can be run for over a day on the amount of energy saved by recycling 1 pound of steel. In one year in the United States, the recycling of steel saves enough energy to heat and light 18,000,000 homes!

Please click here to see the recycling symbols for aluminum and recyclable steel.

Recycling Facts – Paper

  • Americans use 85,000,000 tons of paper a year; about 680 pounds per person.
  • The average American uses seven trees a year in paper, wood, and other products made from trees. This amounts to about 2,000,000,000 trees per year!
  •  Every day, American businesses generate enough paper waste to circle the Earth 20 times.
  • In addition, every year each American household receives an average of 1.5 tree’s growth of bulk mail advertising — commonly known as “junk mail.”

How can recycling paper help?

  • Each ton (2000 pounds) of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, three cubic yards of landfill space, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water. This represents a 64% energy savings, a 58% water savings, and 60 pounds less of air pollution!
  • The 17 trees saved (above) can absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide from the air each year. Burning that same ton of paper would create 1500 pounds of carbon dioxide.
  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute!
  • Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

Good new or bad news? Let’s start with the stinky one:

  • When you smell a dump, what you’re actually smelling is the paper in the dump, rotting and releasing methane into the atmosphere!
  • Americans dump 180 million tons of garbage annually — more than 40% of which is paper. High-grade printing, copying and writing paper is the largest single component in a landfill.
  • We throw away enough office and writing paper annually to build a wall 12 feet high stretching from Los Angeles to New York.
  • The amount of wood and paper we throw away each year is enough to heat 50,000,000 homes for 20 years.
  • Approximately 1 billion trees worth of paper are thrown away every year in the U.S.
  • The average household throws away 13,000 separate pieces of paper each year. Most is packaging and junk mail.

So, what’s the good news? Well, we’re making progress with paper recycling:

  • More than 37 percent of the fiber used to make new paper products in the United States comes from recycled sources.
  • 27% of the newspapers produced in America are recycled.
  • The construction costs of a paper mill designed to use waste paper is 50 to 80% less than the cost of a mill using new pulp.
  • McDonald’s saves 68,000,000 pounds of packaging per year just by pumping soft drink syrup directly from the delivery truck into tanks in the restaurant, instead of shipping the syrup in cardboard boxes!

Recycling facts – Plastic

This is of particular concern to environmentalists and economists alike since plastic recycling “affects a range of products, from drink containers to shopping bags to pipes. Plastic is almost always the product of petroleum, a non-renewable resource.” This why plastic recyclin is immensely important.

Americans throw away 25,000,000 plastic beverage bottles every hour! Eight out of 10 plastic water bottles become landfill waste.

  • In 2006, Americans drank about 167 bottles of water each, but only recycled an average of 23 percent. That leaves 38 billion water bottles in landfills. Plastic bottles take 700 years before they begin to decompose in a landfill.
  • A typical family consumes 182 gallons of pop, 29 gallons of juice, 104 gallons of milk, and 26 gallons of bottled water a year. That’s a lot of containers — make sure they’re recycled!
  • According to Earth911, if everyone in NYC gave up water bottles for one week they would save 24 million bottles from being landfilled; one month would save 112 million bottles and one year would save 1.328 billion bottles from going into the landfill.
  • In 2007 we spent $16 billion on bottled water. That’s more than we spent on iPods or movie tickets.
  • It takes over 1.5 million barrels of oil to manufacture a year’s supply of bottled water. That’s enough oil to fuel 100,000 cars.
  • American throw away 25,000,000,000 styrofoam coffee cups every year.
  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year!
  • Recycling plastic saves twice as much energy as buring it in an incinerator.

What are we doing about it, so far?

  • Over 1.3 billion pounds of post-consumer plastics are recycled annually in the U.S.
  • The U.S. annually recycles 18% of all of its plastic bottles and containers and 36% of its soft drink bottles.
  • Over 23 million lbs. of plastic foam peanuts are recycled annually; that’s enough to fill up the Empire State Building.
  • The U.S. post consumer plastics industry employs over 52,000 workers.

Read “Recycling Symbols” for more information on recyclable plastic products.

Recycling Facts – Glass

  •  Glass makes up about 7% of America’s municipal solid waste.
  • The U.S. annually produces about 12.5 million tons of glass of which 3.7 million tons is recycled.
    Americans annually dispose of over 28 million glass bottles and jars.
  • Every two weeks Americans dispose of enough glass bottles and jars to fill up both towers of the former World Trade Center. All of these jars are recyclable!
  • A modern glass bottle would take 4000 years or more to decompose — and even longer if it’s in the landfill.
  • The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle can run a 100-watt light bulb for four hours. It also causes 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution than when a new bottle is made from raw materials.
  • Mining and transporting raw materials for glass produces about 385 pounds of waste for every ton of glass that is made. If recycled glass is substituted for half of the raw materials, the waste is cut by more than 80%.
  • Every ton of glass produced from virgin materials produces 27.8 lbs. of air pollution; recycling cuts that amount by over 5 lbs. Overall, glass recycling saves over 25% of the energy necessary to make glass with virgin materials.

How are we doing with glass recycling?

  • Most bottles and jars contain about 30% recycled glass. About 37% of all glass bottles and jars are now recycled.
  • Glass recycling employs over 30,000 workers in 76 plants in 25 states.

Recycling Facts – Miscellaneous

  • One-third of the water used in most homes is flushed down the toilet.
  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.
  • You can walk 1 mile along an average highway in the United States and see about 1,457 pieces of litter.

This is just an initial compilation of recycling facts from various sources (please see acknowledgement of sources and lins below) here in the United States. If you come across any new facts about recycling, please feel free to direct us to the source by placing a comment below and we will gladly update the list for you.

Sources:

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14 responses so far ↓

  • 1 R Spencer // Jun 5, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Great recycling facts, short, concise , and clear.

    One of the easiest things for us to recycle is the plastic and metal containers which your food and household products come in.

    Thank you for being apart of the solution.

  • 2 Airport Long Term Parking // Jun 11, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    It’s such a pity! The majority of the 7 billion greeting cards purchased in the US each year are discarded. Despite the beauty of their design, the purpose of greeting cards is to provide your family and friends the feeling of importance, then be thrown away! The landfill is the final destination for all these beautiful cards…until NOW!

  • 3 sara // Nov 10, 2008 at 12:24 pm

    I understand you buy old cell phones I have a QWest phone do you buy them ?

  • 4 david // Nov 12, 2008 at 10:35 pm

    After some heavy facts, THANK YOU for a little levity in making R. Spencer, “thoughtful card sender,” and especially poor sara’s comments available. Was it the EPA reporting that 100% of those beautiful cards went to the landfill, or does Hallmark track those stats? And more importantly, did pacebutler buy sara’s phone?

  • 5 Michael // Nov 13, 2008 at 8:44 am

    Sara – here’s the page to see the resale value of your cell phone:
    http://www.pacebutler.com/images/prices.pdf

    Judygifts – Thanks for the observation, we’ll try to add some more detailed content in our next posts.

    David – I’m not sure if Hallmark nor the EPA does, reusable greeting cards is certainly a creative, though I can’t think of anyone who use those. :)

  • 6 paper recycling // Nov 13, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    “Please recycle”. A phrase stated on almost all of the plastic and even paper products in the world. These manufacturers encourage us consumers, to get involved into paper recycling, as well as plastic recycling. But to recycle plastics, it will come a long way to be made. There is a certain process of waste recycling especially for these plastic products.

  • 7 Denver Ken // Nov 26, 2008 at 9:16 pm

    It is really a staggering amount of waste. I had no idea paper was such a major part of the problem. I always thought it was no as bad as plastic since it is a renewable resource. It seems like eventually trees will get to be expensive enough that consumption will go down and everyone will want to grow trees for extra money.

  • 8 PatentGenius // Jan 30, 2009 at 12:15 am

    It’s amazing how much goes to waste and doesn’t get recycled. Hopefully people can learn to reduce in addition to recycling. With the digital technology available paper use really should be lower. Everything can be emailed, stored digitally and even books are available in digital format. There’s really no excuse to use so much paper.

  • 9 Plastic Recycling // Mar 2, 2009 at 6:29 am

    Good article. It’s nice to see numbers yet disturbing to see how much is wasted. I was interesting to hear about the recycling of cell phones. I have about 5 old cell phones packed away and had no idea what to do with them. Thanks for information!

  • 10 RaiulBaztepo // Mar 28, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    Hello!
    Very Interesting post! Thank you for such interesting resource!
    PS: Sorry for my bad english, I’v just started to learn this language ;)
    See you!
    Your, Raiul Baztepo

  • 11 Recycling Bottles and The 21st Century Waterfall | Pacebutler Blog // Apr 2, 2009 at 7:05 am

    [...] more Recycling Facts [...]

  • 12 Planet Buzz // Apr 10, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Being from the great state of Alaska I just have to look around to see the wonders that have been put in our charge. This planet is the only one we will ever have. There is not another one like it as far as we know about. It is our duty, and it should be our honor to protect it in any way possible. Recycling the recourses that we take out must be one of the top goals of every human on the planet.

    We are cutting down 24 million metric tons of trees for paper production every year. According to one estimate, the average tree weighs 680 kg, or 0.68 tons. So this means that an estimated 16.32 million trees are destroyed for paper production in the US each year.

    One of the largest wasteful paper products is the phone directory. Each year we get a new one and most of the old are going to landfills. Please recycle your phone books and if at all possible opt-out from receiving them completely and use the Internet.

  • 13 Blogging Zone // Aug 7, 2009 at 3:05 am

    Great web site. Solid, helpful advice that you can benefit from and for free, it does not get much better than that. The web needs more sites like this one, please keep it up.

  • 14 Office Furniture // Nov 19, 2009 at 4:15 am

    It’s amazing how much waste there still is. Times are changing though. We as a company have made a big effort to use recycled product in our office furniture, and many others are doing the same in lots of different industries.