We’ve heard the noise about recycling for decades.
Perhaps recycling is mandated by your city or county.
In your green home, you may be committed to rinsing containers, sorting paper from plastic from cans and putting them in the correct bins because you know in your heart it’s the right thing to do.
But when someone asks “Why should we recycle?” do you have good answers?
Every choice makes an impact on the Earth. The amount of carbon dioxide (chemical formula CO2) we generate is called our carbon footprint.
CO2 is not a toxin or bad thing, in and of itself. But you can have too much of a good thing. As with everything in life, balance is important.
To emphasize this point, note that CO2 induction is used to euthanize laboratory research animals (a green home lifestyle rejects the use of animals in lab experiments, but that’s another subject).
CO2 is vital to life. To conduct photosynthesis, plants require carbon dioxide, which is a colorless, odorless gas. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is the primary source of carbon in life on Earth.
Before the industrial revolution, atmospheric CO2 was regulated by photosynthetic organisms. Sometimes there was more, sometimes less, depending on the season and other natural factors.
Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, which means it is transparent to incoming visible light from the sun, but absorbs outgoing infrared radiation from the ground instead of letting it pass through. So more infrared radiation is trapped inside our atmosphere.
The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased by about 35% from the combined effects of deforestation (which reduces the photosynthesis of CO2) and burning fossil fuels. These human activities increase the heat-trapping (greenhouse) gases in the atmosphere, which may contribute to global warming.
Long-lived greenhouse gases include methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CO2. Carbon dioxide is primarily responsible for the rising Earth temperature.
Ocean acidification is of concern equal to global warming. CO2 dissolves in water to form carbonic acid, which upsets the pH balance of Earth’s water systems. In addition to wreaking other havoc, acidic water can be deadly to fish, birds and other wildlife.
Reducing our carbon footprint is easy. The hardest part is beginning to shift your awareness of everything you buy, consume and discard. Even a small change in habits and lifestyle can make a big difference.
The industrialized world is full of big consumers. We buy things manufactured around the world. We even buy produce grown halfway around the world and transported to our location. Think of the energy used in transportation alone, nearly all of it fossil fuels.
Consider the materials used to make or grow the product – the equipment and materials had to be manufactured and transported – contributing to greenhouse gases. And the packaging? Yikes! To prevent damage and shoplifting, the smallest items are housed in the most plastic.
It takes between 400 and 500 years for Styrofoam to decompose. Yet restaurants still send takeout and leftovers in Styrofoam containers. They still serve beverages in Styrofoam cups.
In contrast, it takes an orange peel six months to decompose, and it helps replenish the soil unless it’s dumped in a garbage pit. Plant materials are biodegradable so why not use them to nourish other growing things?
Once tossed into a trash can, our waste ends up buried in a landfill or incinerated. Municipal waste incinerators spew out all kinds of air pollutants. Toxic pollution from landfills includes cyanide, dioxins, mercury, methane, hydrochloric acid, sulfuric acid and lead. Do you want these deadly toxins escaping into the air and leaching into groundwater?
According to UtahRecycles.org Americans represent 5% of the world’s population, but generate 30% of the world’s garbage. The industrial processes involved in providing one average U.S. family’s annual needs (“wants?”) uses and disposes of four million pounds of material. U.S. consumers waste or cause to be wasted (through industrial process) nearly one million pounds per person every year.
A few examples of the impact of the waste from our modern lifestyle:
Non-toxic water, food, soil and air depend on using resources wisely.
Preventing human-induced global warming depends on each individual reducing our personal carbon footprint through every-day activities such as purchasing produce locally, buying items with less packaging and letting manufacturers know that you want recyclable, non-toxic materials.
Remember that behind every purchasing decision we make is a factory somewhere in the world emitting CO2, generating energy to produce whatever you are consuming at that moment.
We hope this article helps you prepare some answers for the next someone tells you “I don’t want to rinse out my cottage cheese carton. Why should we recycle anyway?”