Newsletter 3

Most Americans dispose of their household waste, or garbage, by putting it in a bag, then taking it out to the curb for the garbage man to pick up. The waste is then hauled away to a landfill and left to decompose (break down into ecologically usable materials). However, much of the garbage deposited in our nation’s landfills will never decompose. We are a “throw-away society,” meaning that we tend to make products that are not reusable. Our landfills are filling up at a very fast rate.

Some of the garbage in our landfills is actually poisonous, or toxic, such as chemicals, batteries and engine oil. Health problems for nearby communities can appear when too much of these toxic materials are in one landfill. If you have to throw away large amounts of chemicals or oil, find out where they can safely be disposed of. Landfills also produce a gas called methane, which is one of the most potent of the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

The answer to our landfill problem is recycling and reusing. Recycling means breaking down materials and reforming them into usable products. Many things that we throw away can actually be recycled. Recyclable material includes paper, glass, plastic, rubber, engine oil, batteries, metal, aluminum, and printer cartridges.

Here are some recycling facts: Making paper from waste paper produces 73% less air pollution, uses 61% less water and requires up to 70% less energy than when paper is made from virgin fiber. Every one ton of recycled paper saves the equal amount of energy as 53.2 million BTUs or 380 gallons of oil. Every four tons of recycled paper saves the same amount of energy needed to heat an average-sized home in New York State for an entire year. The production of a ton of paper requires 17 mature trees, 7,000 gallons of water and more energy per ton than glass or steel. Americans throw away enough office and writing paper per year to build a wall 12 feet high stretching from Los Angeles to New York. Every year more than 900 million trees are cut down to provide raw materials for American paper and pulp mills. One tree can filter up to 60 pounds of pollutants from the air each year.

Recycling one aluminum can saves enough electricity to power a TV or a 100-watt light bulb for three hours. You can make 20 recycled aluminum cans with the energy it takes to make one new one. American consumers and businesses throw away enough aluminum in a year to rebuild the entire U.S. commercial air fleet every three months. Recycled glass generates 20% less air pollution and 50% less water pollution, and saves 50% more energy. Recycling one glass container saves enough energy to light a 100-watt light bulb for 4 hours.

Reusing means finding another use for a product instead of just throwing it away after it’s used once. Some suggestions are: Save and reuse aluminum foil, plastic baggies, paper lunch bags and glass jars. Donate books to the library and old clothes to churches or Goodwill/Salvation Army. Use large dog/cat food bags as garbage bags. Use empty coffee cans as a piggy bank by cutting a slit in the top. If you have to use them, wash and reuse plastic cups and eating utensils lots of times.

When we buy products we should always look for the recycle symbol, a triangle of arrows printed somewhere on the outside. This means that either the product or the packaging is produced from recycled material. Recycled material can be made into many things that we can use. Whole houses can be made from recycled materials. Boards, windows, appliances, and furniture all can be made from recycled material.

Good reasons to recycle are: Recycling saves our valuable natural resources, energy, and landfill space. Recycling saves clean air and clean water, saves money and creates jobs. All of us working together can change a society’s behavior, but even one person can start to make a difference by recycling and telling his/her friends to recycle as well. Teach your parents, brothers, sisters and other family members about the importance of recycling and encourage them to do it with you.