Climate Action Collaborative

Recycling Isn't Just About Trash, It's About Energy

Posted by Sophia Gianfrancisco on Nov 7, 2018 1:32:23 PM
Sophia Gianfrancisco

Recycling Isn’t Just About Trash, it’s About Energy

It’s the right thing to do and is a critical part of meeting Eagle County’s emissions goals.

 

It’s simple: the environment benefits when we recycle.

Recycling that aluminum, cardboard, and plastic has a huge, positive, impact on the environment. According to some experts, Recycling is the easiest and fastest way we can help save our planet. Increasing recycling rates is also one of the goals for our Climate Action Collaborative for the Eagle County Community, whose goal is to reduce local carbon pollution 25% by 2025 and 80% by 2050. Recycling is accessible to everyone, it’s cost effective, it shrinks landfills, and it conserves natural resources.

But did you know, one of the best kept secrets in recycling has to do with energy savings?

Resource-Depletion-Energy-Saved-2One of the reasons recycling is so beneficial for climate is because it saves energy! Recycling eliminates the need to extract raw materials, like trees and precious metals from the earth to be mined, harvested, processed, manufactured, and transported. Extraction, transportation, and processing are energy intensive processes therefore the energy expended is significantly less and more cost effective when you cut these pieces out and start the manufacturing process with recycled materials. 

Take your curbside aluminum can for example. Once it goes to our local Materials Recovery Facility it is sorted and cleaned then compacted and baled. From there it goes to a mill where it is re-melted and rolled out to make 20 more aluminum cans that are ready to be in stores in 60 days or less. The same amount of energy used to make 20 cans from recycled materials makes only one aluminum can from raw materials.

Let’s break down how much energy is actually saved from the can that’s been kicked to your curbside recycling. One recycled aluminum can saves 2.97 Btu of energy. This amount of energy could run your laptop computer for 5.8 hours, keep a ceiling fan on for 2.4 hours, or allow you to watch 2.2 hours of Netflix on your home TV. 

A common myth is that the transportation of recycled materials uses more energy than energy savings from material extraction. While this depends on how far the recyclables are being transported, it is in almost all cases not true. For example, aluminum would need to be trucked over 121,000 miles in order for the transportation energy to exceed the energy saved in manufacturing. This would be the equivalent of driving around the Earth 4.8 times. The moral of the story, no matter how you shake it, recycling will always yield energy savings!

While it’s great to recycle more we also need to be sure to recycle right. In Eagle County we see large amounts of contamination hit our local recycling facility and approximately 16% of ‘recycling’ ends up in our landfill due to contamination. Landfills are the largest source of human-caused methane, a climate pollutant 84 times more potent than CO2. Recycling correctly helps us meet our Climate Action Plan goals by limiting waste sent to landfill.

If you have trouble recycling or want to learn more about how to recycle properly in Eagle County there are good resources available. First, you can download the free Eagle County Waste Wizard mobile app. This app allows users to search for a specific item and learn how best to dispose of it locally.  The app is available in both the Apple and Android app stores. 
 
Download the Eagle County Waste Wizard Recycling App!

The next thing you can do is join Walking Mountains Sustainability for a free guided tour of the Eagle County Materials Recovery Facility, or sign up for a personal group tour. Seeing recycling in action is a great way to learn how to recycle correctly.

Join the Climate Action Collaborative in taking action. Together we can divert 30% of waste going to our landfills by 2025 through recycling and composting. After all, it’s the number one thing we can do for our environment!

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Topics: Forever Green, Climate Action Collaborative, Recycling, Waste Update

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