Climate Change and Recycling

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I have been out of my Dad’s house for several years now and living on my own, and as a result I have formed my own independent habits and behaviors. One of those habits is recycling. Now I am not the standard for recycling by any means, but I try to be diligent about separating my food waste from my recyclables.  However, my Dad did not really recycle growing up and when he comes to visits me here in Phoenix, recycling becomes a topic conversation. We do things differently, so when he is here I suggest he put things in the recycling bin and separate it out. Now it is not required to recycle here in Phoenix but it is encouraged, and I know it is an extra step and he is not used to recycling but I feel that I am somehow helping the environment.

While I think it is great I feel better about myself when I recycle, I also think it is important to look at the facts about recycling and climate change. The US Environmental Protection Agency said, “increasing the national recycling rate from the current level of 28 percent to 35 percent would reduce GHG emissions by 9.8 MMCO2e, compared to landfilling the same material.”

Below is an illustration of the effects of recycling plastic bottles. It compares how the environment is affected with and without recycling.


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Some of the quick facts the EPA gives are:

  • Producing forty aluminum cans requires the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline. Making aluminum from recycled sources requires 95% less energy than virgin production.
  • Manufacturing each ton of virgin glass emits a half-ton of carbon dioxide, nearly two tons of nitrogen and smaller quantities of the greenhouse gases nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide. Using recycled glass reduces all of these emissions significantly.
  • Producing 40,000 tons of plastic bottles requires energy equivalent to 13 million gallons of gasoline. Recycling a ton of plastic bottles saves approximately 74 gallons of gas.

From researching about recycling, I realized that while recycling is effective there are other factors that contribute to climate change such as driving and heating/cooling the home.  I don’t think that me going “green” will have a major impact on the environment but it may help some.  There was a survey online where you can calculate the carbon footprint your household emits, so I calculated my household CO2 emissions.


Reviewed by: Sholpan Zhaksybaeva

2 Comments on “Climate Change and Recycling”

  1. Elizabeth,

    One of the things that surprised me when I moved to my current neighborhood is that there is no recycling receptacle. The apartment complex I lived in last year had a recycling receptacle in the parking lot, so I always made sure to sort out my trash. In Japan, they put a lot more effort into sorting trash. Everywhere you go, there’s always separate bins for trash that can be burned, can’t be burned, and recyclables. Some places also sort out aluminum cans from plastic bottles. I think if we all made more of an effort to sort out trash and there were more recycling bins in public here in the United States, it could make a significant impact.


  2. Elizabeth,

    It’s funny that you picked up the habit without being raised to do so. However, the whole matter revolving around recycling is rather a big environmental & social issue these days. I too am peeved when people recycle plastics without cleaning them off. Throwing away dirty recyclables means they won’t even be considered as a recyclable even if the makeup permits it.

    This awareness should be spread and I appreciated your post for that precise reason.

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