Before introducing the concept of recycling we need to learn about garbage. People have different views about what garbage actually is. Garbage can be leftovers from meals, papers or just about any junk you don’t want. It can include cans and bottles, old furniture, junked automobiles and tires. City and public health officials define garbage as “a fraction of the solid wastes that must eventually be treated by the city.”
Refuse consists of all of the solid wastes of the community, coming from homes, industry, institutions and agriculture, including garbage, rubbish, ashes, dead animals, abandoned cars, demolished wastes and sewage treatment residues. Refuse can be organic (made from things that were once alive) such as: paper, rags, grass clippings, leaves, wood, yard treatments and sludge. Refuse can also be inorganic and can include products like metals, tin cans, stones, glass, bottles and other mineral refuse. Garbage usually smells because the microscopic organisms which break it down release gases. Two of the gases usually released are hydrogen sulfide which smells like rotten eggs and methane which is odorless but can cause explosions.
Presently overcrowding conditions exit at our waste sites and enormous pressure is being exerted to purify our nation’s air and water resources. Waste sites include landfills, incinerators, transfer stations and processing plants. Eighty percent of all garbage is buried in landfills.
In the United States each of us contributes about 3 1/2 pounds of waste each day, for a total generation of about 1200 pounds of waste per person, per year.
Landfills are large holes in the ground with garbage in them. The bottom is sometimes lined with plastic so waste doesn’t seep out. The garbage is dumped, packed tightly and covered with dirt. Topsoil is used as a final covering allowing plants to grow, thus preventing erosion. The surface is also treated so rainwater can run off. As garbage decomposes it creates methane and sulfurous gases. As mentioned earlier these gases can cause a rotten egg odor, have serious explosive capacities and can contribute to smog and air pollution. In some cases the gases are pumped out with pipes and used to generate electricity and at times to carbonate soft drinks. When water mixes with the decomposing garbage a liquid called leachate is formed. This liquid is drained off into sewers or storm drains and can mix with our drinking water supplies. Leachate can be toxic. Since landfills are closing daily, the problem of garbage disposal has become a serious one. When left untreated or unrecycled we are faced with dangerous health and pest problems.
Rethinking our current methods of garbage disposal is the first step we need to take in order to begin a successful recycling program. A recent quote in Audbon magazine states, “It boils down not so much to a garbage crisis as a crisis in individual responsibility. The public assumes it’s a government problem when it’s really an individual problem. We need people to accept responsibility for their own wastes.”
There are three basic principles “reading, writing and arithmetic,” they are “reducing, re-using and recycling.”
Reducing means using less. A good example of reducing is to use cloth towels instead of paper ones. Re-using helps us find ways to use materials we would normally throw away such as cardboard, grocery and plastic bags. Recycling is a processing technique used so items can also be used again—crushing glass bottles to make new glass, turning paper back into pulp to make new paper, shredding plastics to make fillings for jackets, and mixing grass cuttings with food scraps for fertilizer are all good examples of this process. The EPA defines recycling as, “collecting, reprocessing, marketing and using materials once considered trash.” The dictionary defines it as, “the same material is used over and over again to make the same, or an equivalent product. This costs the amount of virgin materials required for manufacturing.”
Paper and paper board products comprise more than 1/3 of landfill wastes, with a volume of 35.6%. Next in line by sheer tonnage, are yard wastes at 20.1% of the waste. Next, and about equal in their contribution are metals, food, glass and plastics, each around 8%.
Luckily, these materials are among those most easily recycled.
Recycling provides a way to live in harmony with the limited resources of the world and to protect these resources for the future. It is a way to provide energy from wastes and to renew dwindling resources. Cleaning up the environment is our responsibility and recycling provides us with a means to remove wastes and turn them back into useful products. It is a quick and inexpensive way to deal with garbage, but more importantly it is the first step we can initiate to save our natural resources, conserve energy and save our rainforests.
Recently communities have begun to set up their recycling programs. There are four steps to a successful program: collecting, sorting, reclaiming and reusing. Paper, glass and aluminum top the list of commonly recycled materials. Paper is recycled by using water and chemicals to remove the ink to create pulp. Pulp is cleaned, processed into tiny fibers and made into paper again. Aluminum is ground into small chips, melted down and made into solid bars. As a result, new cans can be made. Glass is broken up into a form of broken glass called cullet. Cullet is then melted down and reused again and again. Slowly but surely we are beginning to become aware of our previous methods of disposal and we are learning to change our behavior.