There are significant environmental and economic benefits associated with recycling. Recycling helps create jobs, can be more cost effective than trash collection, reduces the need for new landfills, saves energy, supplies valuable raw materials to industry, and adds significantly to the U.S. economy.
More Jobs, Economic Development, and Tax Revenue
The recycling and reuse industry consists of approximately 56,000 establishments that employ over 1.1 million people, generate an annual payroll of nearly $37 billion, and gross over $236 billion in annual revenues.
More Energy Security
The amount of energy saved differs by material, but almost all recycling processes achieve significant energy savings compared to virgin material production. For example, recycling of aluminum cans saves 95 percent of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from virgin sources. For each can recycled, this is enough energy to run a television or computer for three hours.
By conservative estimates, recycling was projected to save 605 trillion British Thermal Units (BTUs) in 2005, equal to the energy used in 6 million households annually.
Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Current evidence suggests that it is likely that human activities have contributed to accelerated warming of the Earth’s surface through the increase of emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) which have altered the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
While there is uncertainty regarding the human and ecological impacts of climate change, scientists have identified that our health, agriculture, water resources, forests, wildlife and coastal areas are vulnerable to the changes that global warming may bring.
Less Pressure on Landfills and More Natural Resources for Future Generations
Recycling revenues can help defray recycling costs and forestall the need for new disposal capacity as every cubic yard of material recycled is one less cubic yard of landfill space that is required. These avoided costs are part of the “revenues” that recycling brings to a community. For example, in 1996, Ann Arbor, Michigan, spent $71 per ton on recycling and composting, compared to $86 per ton for trash collection and disposal.
In 1996, 130 million cubic yards of material were diverted from landfills due to recycling and composting. If this amount of material had not been recycled, the U.S. would have needed 64 additional landfills, each with enough capacity to serve the combined city populations of Dallas and Detroit.