#1) One pop can recycled is one small step toward sustainability.
The scholarly consensus that human activity has something to do with the planet’s warming trend suggests that our current practices of consumption can’t be continued without significantly altering (and many would say harming) our environment. Put in other terms, we’re starting to learn that some of our practices will likely not be sustainable over the long haul, especially if we consider the U.S. Census Bureau’s estimate of world population growth: 9 billion by midcentury, they say, a figure significantly higher than the current 6.2 billion. In short, sustainability issues with likely be with us for a while.
#2) Americans are big-time consumers.
Firm numbers aren’t easy to come by, but the usual estimate is that the industrialized world indulges in somewhere around 80% of the consumption on our planet while accounting for only 20% of its population. Among these developed countries, the U.S. is home to the unquestioned champions of consumption. The same dubious distinction, as you might guess, goes for generating trash. The EPA’s figures for 2006 put our per person waste at an average of 4.6 pounds per day, a rate higher than any other country. In fact it’s about twice as much as the per person average in Europe and significantly higher than the 2.7 pound figure that represented the American average in 1960.
#3) Recycling reduces demand for raw materials and energy.
That recycling cuts back on the need to dig up or chop down new raw materials perhaps goes without saying, but think for a moment about the energy expended in the process of rustling up those materials. Consider, for example, that producing 1 ton of aluminum involves digging up and transporting more than 4 tons of bauxite as well as a 1/2 ton each of petroleum coke and soda ash. By some estimates, we reduce energy needs by 95% when we recycle aluminum instead of producing it from scratch. That’s significant energy conservation. In fact, by one calculation, each can that you recycle saves enough energy to power a TV for 3 hours. With figures like these in mind, it’s fairly easy to make a reasonable connection between recycling and climate change: reduce the need to burn some fossil fuels (be it gas or coal) and we reduce the production of greenhouse gasses. Indeed, the EPA claims that recycling in 2000 alone saved the U.S. about 5,000,000,000 gallons of oil.
#4) Landfills are a nuisance, a long-term nuisance.
Some critics of recycling efforts point out, rightly, that the U.S. is a pretty big country, one not libel to run out of spots to tuck away its refuse anytime soon. But let’s not lose sight of another reality: these underground heaps of rubbish need continual monitoring and management to assure that the liquids and gasses that emerge from our post-consumer cast asides are being handled in a responsible way. No one—and I do mean no one—argues that we’d all be better off with a few more landfills around. Now consider that the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio, the group that runs a major landfill in Franklin county, reports that the stuff filling up our big pits is, alas, about 38% paper and cardboard, 20% biodegradable refuse (i.e. compostable food, yard clippings, and the like), and 16% recyclable plastic. It seems, then, that just a little behavior change on our end of the deal could reduce our need for long-term garbage pits by about 75%.
#5) The Witt community has room to do its part.
Wittenberg’s mission statement challenges us to be “responsible global citizens.” Folks around this campus have found a lot of good ways to go about this task, but one pretty significant—if a little mundane—way for all of us to polish up our citizenship credentials would be to recycle more of our stuff. In that one humble act, we’d take a stride toward sustainability, curb our national inclination to casually consume and toss away, reduce our demand for energy (and our production of greenhouse gasses), and trim our need for landfills. Simple enough. But we have some real work to do. The EPA reports that Americans put about 32% of their waste in the recycle bin; our campus recycling program has hovered closer to 10%. That’s better than some campuses, but we’re still at the beginning of our efforts. Let the change begin and do what you can to be a part of that change.