Recycling is important to preserve the environment and to leave the planet in a better condition than we found it. Did you know that the average American throws away four pounds of trash daily? That is more than 1.5 tons of waste per person per year. Multiply that by 6 billion people and you know we have a major problem with waste.
For example, one of the biggest problems in the world today is the staggering amount of electronic waste (e-waste) that is produced. In 2009, thrown away TVs, computer, printers, monitors, scanners, keyboards etc. made up 2.37 million tons in the US.
This was only 2% of our landfill trash, but 70% of our toxic waste. It poisons our soil, water, trees and other precious resources. E-waste is especially bad for the environment and is something that kids can help to prevent as they learn to recycle many things in their communities: papers, magazines, cans, plastic and glass bottles, electronics and more.
The good news that all of us can do our part to recycle, and it starts the youth of America. If children learn from early on to recycle, they will carry that good habit with them for life. With some easy effort and guidelines, kids can learn how to become part of the solution to recycling for a healthier planet.
This guide will outline the key aspects of recycling, challenges, and what kids can do specifically to help to improve our recycling efforts every day. Use it as a resource to teach your students about the importance of becoming part of the recycling revolution.
What Is Recycling?
Recycling is how we take trash and transform it into new products. There are several types of recycling processes that allow some materials to be used one or more times. Recycling is good for us and the environment because it reduces the use of new raw materials to product new products. It also reduces the energy we use, improves the quality of air and water, and fights climate change.
All sorts of things can be recycled. Some of the most common processes used today recycle:
- Computers and accessories
- Newspapers and magazines
Soda cans, plastic water bottles, plastic milk cartons, newspapers, cereal boxes and old computers are just some of the common items that are recycled every day. If all of us were to recycle just a few items per day that we throw away, we can go a long way to improving the environment for our futures and future generations.
What Is Reusing?
Just as we learn the importance of recycling, we also should learn about reusing. Reusing means combining reusing materials and using items that can be reused. For example, paper plates cannot be reused, and reusable cutlery lowers the energy that is needed to make new products, and it also can be reused to prevent more waste in the landfill. Reusing things that can be reused means less pollution and more of our precious natural resources are left intact.
Think about the possibilities of a product before you throw it away; it could be reused for another purpose. How about that old t-shirt? It could b used as a car rag. Reuse is different from recycling, but it does lead to reduced consumption - always a good thing.
What Is Reducing?
Another important thing to learn, in addition to recycling and reusing, is reducing. Keeping our new purchases to a minimum is a way to reduce our use of natural resources. Reducing consumption of physical objects is important, as is reducing our use of electricity, water and gas to make new products. Reducing means to lower usage from the very start.
Cutting back on purchases you do not really need lowers the use of materials and also lowers energy waste through gas and transportation costs. Reducing also can apply in other areas of life. Carpool, bike or use public transportation when possible. Take shorter showers and ask your parents to replace old appliances with Energy Star ones.
Recycling By The Numbers
Below are some important facts about recycling:
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- If you lined up the plastic bottles tossed away each year, they would circle our planet four times.
- Energy saved from recycling a glass bottle can light a light bulb as long as four hours.
- Recycling saves money for our communities. Did you know that it costs only $30 per ton to recycle most materials? On the other hand, it costs up to $50 per ton to take garbage to the landfill. It takes $60 to $75 to burn it, which pollutes the air.
- People have been recycling their trash for thousands of years; ancient civilizations would melt down old metal products such as knives and swords and various metal household items to make coins and other new items.
- 75% of garbage is recyclable but we only recycle 30% in the US.
- The average person in the US throws out almost five pounds of garbage daily - that is 251 tons per year - per person!
- The typical American uses 17 trees each year in wood and paper products. Many of those products can be recycled.
- We toss away enough paper and wood annually to heat 50,000 homes for two decades.
- The typical American gets 500 pieces of junk mail annually. Most of this is simply thrown away. It takes millions of trees to produce all that junk mail.
- Recycle plastic bags by reusing them when you are at the grocery store or bring reusable cloth bags with you.
- Glass can be recycled many times.
- A single aluminum can will sit in a landfill for at least 500 years. All aluminum cans may be recycled.
- 17 million barrels of oil are used to produce the plastic water bottles consumed in the United States each year.
So Why Recycle?
Recycling is vital for many reasons that affect the future of all children. Today, more than 100 million Americans recycle. It is an easy way to protect the environment and stimulate the national economy. When you finish a bottle of water or a box of cereal, it is important to remember to recycle for these reasons:
- Save our natural resources and wildlife. Recycling helps to reduce the garbage in landfills that can take hundreds of years to break down. It also helps to preserve trees by reducing the need for new paper. If we do more to preserve natural resources, we also help to support wildlife for us to enjoy throughout our lives.
- Saves money. Selling materials that are recycled offsets the additional costs of processing and collecting the recycled materials. This makes it a cheaper option for most American communities.
- Reduces pollution. Using recycled materials rather than taking virgin materials for new products avoids environmental harm. It avoids new mining for metals, drilling for oil and the mass harvesting of trees. Using recycled white paper creates 75% less air pollution and 35% less water pollution than making new paper. Using recycled cans produces 95% less air and 97% less water pollution.
- Save energy. The US recycles approximately 30% of its waste every year. This saves 12 billion gallons of gasoline and reduces greenhouse gases equal to removing 25 million cars from our roads. Recycling helps companies to reduce energy consumption because they do not have to produce new products from raw materials. They can repurpose all types of recycled goods, including newspapers, magazines, plastic bottles, cans, milk jugs, boxes and much more.
- Reduce landfill waste. When the garbage truck comes to your neighborhood to pick up the garbage, they take it to the landfill. Landfills over time fill up and can harm the environment.
- Creates jobs. For every one job at a landfill or incinerator, there are 10 jobs in recycling and 25 in manufacturing based upon recycling. Did you know that the recycling industry has more works than the US auto industry?
How Are Things Recycled?
There are many processes used today to recycle all types of waste. Below is more information about how specific types are recycled every day.
E-Waste (Electronics and Computers)
One of the most commonly recycled electronics is old computers. Charities such as Goodwill accept things such as used hard drives, computers, monitors and printers. Equipment that is no longer functional is taken apart, and the glass, metal and plastic are recycled at local recycling facilities.
But equipment that can be reused is refurbished and resold at various Goodwill stores around the country.
Fun fact about recycling electronics: Electronic waste, called e-waste, is only 2% of American trash, but it is 70% of our toxic waste! Recycling computers and other electronics is great for the planet!
Paper (Magazines and Newspapers)
Used magazines and newspapers are collected at paper recycling points and are taken to the paper mill. White paper, such as from offices, also is collected but this is a different type of paper and is recycled separately.
At the paper mill, big conveyor belts feed used paper into the fiber preparation plant where it is fed into giant pulpers. Water and chemicals are mixed with the old paper and made into pulp. This washes out the ink and other contaminants from the paper. The result is a soggy, mushy paper called pulp.
The pulp is injected between wire mesh sheets to form a wet sheet of paper. This is dried and new paper is made out of recycled paper. After it is dry, the paper is polished and rolled into big reels. Some of these are 30 feet wide and weigh up to 30 tons! The paper reels are cut into small sizes and sold to companies that need paper for their products.
Fun facts about paper recycling: It takes 17 trees to make one ton of paper! Some paper grades can be recycled seven times.
Plastic (Bottles & Bags)
Plastic bottles to be recycled are collected from recycling points and from the recycling bins in your neighborhood. The bottles are taken away in big trucks to be sorted and smashed into big plastic blocks.
The blocks can be many feet across and are taken to a recycling factor. They are chopped into small plastic flakes - think small, colorful corn flakes. The flakes are washed and dried and taken to be melted and made into new plastic items.
Fun facts about plastic recycling: A plastic bottle recycled can save as much energy as it takes to light a 60 watt bulb for six hours! Also, old plastic bottles can be turned into new products such as car parts, carpeting and clothes.
Glass is especially important to recycle because it will never decompose in landfills. Here’s how it can be recycled:
Glass bottles are thrown into recycling bins, and the glass is picked up in trucks and taken to a glass treatment facility. The glass is hand sorted by color and washed to get rid of contaminants. The glass bottles are crushed and melted and molded into new jars and bottles.
The glass is sent back to stores in new products to be used again.
Fun facts about glass recycling: Glass does not degrade through recycling, so it can be used endlessly. Also, old glass bottles can be used for new products such as bricks and for many decorative uses.
Consumers throw aluminum cans into recycling bins. The aluminum is collected in trucks and taken to a special aluminum treatment plant. The aluminum cans and other items are sorted and cleaned. It is remelted and turned into liquid aluminum. This removes the colorings and coatings.
The aluminum is made into giant blocks called ingots. Each ingot has about 1.6 million aluminum drink cans in it. The ingots are shipped to mills where they are rolled out; this provides the aluminum with more strength and flexibility. The recycled aluminum sheets are then fashioned into new contains, such as cans, food packaging and chocolate wrappers.
In just a few weeks the recycled aluminum products are back in stores and ready to be sold again.
Fun fact about aluminum recycling: Most of the bauxite used to make aluminum cans is mined in tropical forests. So recycling aluminum saves our precious rainforests!
Used cardboard is picked up from community recycling centers, offices, stores and factories. All cardboard is sent to a waste cardboard company that puts it into large bails to transport it to the paper mill. At the mill, a forklift picks up the bales and puts them onto a conveyor. It is sent to the pulping machine.
In the pulper, water anc chemicals are added to make a mushy, soggy pulp. The pulp is purified and cleaned, ink removed and dried into flat rolls of paper.
The big rolls of new paper are cut into smaller rolls and sold to customers that will make them into all kinds of cardboard for packaging, containers and boxes.
Fun fact about cardboard recycling: Paper and cardboard comprise 30% of the household trash we throw out, so recycling it is very important!
Children’s Tips for Recycling, Reducing and Reusing
Recycling does not have to be difficult. With the tips below, anyone can recycle and help our environment for current and future generations:
- Reduce the amount of products you buy, use and throw away
- Set up a recycling bin. Your home should be equipped with recycling bins throughout the house. Make it easy to separate recyclables from other trash.
- Recycle as many cans, bottles, books, metal, aluminum, glass, newspapers and electronics you can
- Reuse things as much as you can - turn that old t-shirt into a car rag!
- Shut off the water when brushing your teeth
- Instead of paper napkins, use a washcloth for each member of the family. Keep the washcloths in a drawer for the week and use them at each meal. Wash them as needed. This can encourage the whole family to stop buying disposable paper products altogether.
- Unplug chargers for your cell phone when not using it
- Put your PC to sleep instead of leaving it running with the screen on
- Turn off lights you are not using
Do’s and Don’ts of Recycling
It is important to know what we should and should not do in recycling. Here are some simple tips:
- Check local recycling requirements. Not every plant is set up the same way to handle the same items.
- Separate your items. Most cities today require that trash and recyclables be separated into different containers.
- Recycle paper containing staples or envelopes with plastic. The metal and plastic is eventually sorted out.
- Separate lids and jars, cartons and bottles so the containers can be crushes easily during the recycling.
- Recycle junk mail. Most adults get large quantities each week and most of it can be recycled. Glossy and matte paper is okay too.
- Remove caps from all glass bottles. Also verify if your community takes glass from curbside recycling containers.
- Rinse aluminum and steel cans to make them easier to process.
- Recycle empty aerosol cans and metal coat hangers.
- Separate e-waste. Most of it can be recycled but it generally needs to be taken to a recycling center and not placed in curbside containers.
- Try to recycle broken glasses and bottles. These should be thrown away.
- Throw yard waste into recycling bins. Grass clippings and leaves should be hauled away at the next brush pick up date or placed in a green yard waste container that some cities have.
- Try to recycle waxed cardboard or styrofoam.
- Recycle pizza boxes.
- Recycle auto parts, plumbing parts or any combination of metal and paper
- Put trash in the recycling bin. This can make the entire load into trash. Some cities will even charge you an extra fee if they catch you doing this.
- Recycle mirrors, fluorescent tubes, light bulbs or safety glass
- Recycle food. Food can be composted but it cannot be recycled. Also, all food cans, bottles and containers should be free of food waste before being recycled.
Recycling Activities & Crafts
Here are some neat crafts students and teachers can enjoy with recycled materials:
#1 Make a hanging garden
Large plastic bottles can be used as hanging planters. They can go home with students or be hung in the school as a lovely hanging garden to promote recycling in your school.
#2 Fashion a Popup Bracelet
Aluminum beverage pop tops become wearable jewelry, thanks to some ribbon ninja work. Put this video onto your interactive whiteboard to give your students the full 411 and then get crafting.
#3 Feed the birds
Get into the swing of spring by making plastic bottle birdfeeders. Talk to local nature stores about getting bird seed donated. Students can bring in bottles and build their own feeders.
#4 Aluminum Recycling Center
Students can work together create an aluminum can recycling center for the cafeteria or other school common area (like the teacher lounge!). Watch the video below to get the simple instructions, and learn how your classroom and school can make recycling fun and rewarding with Recycle Rally.
Fun Recycling Fundraisers for Your School
Want to recycle, raise money for your school or program, and have fun at the same time? Try these recycling fundraisers at your school today:
- Collect used inkjet cartridges, toner cartridges, laptops, small electronics and cell phones to exchange for cash. Fundingfactory.com will accept most of these items for cash; for example, the website will accept used toner cartridge for between $1.25 and $2.00 each.
- Plant sale. Whether you offer veggie starter kits or flowers, small plants can be great to sell for a fundraiser in the spring. Home gardeners and green thumbs in your school district will be happy to buy young plants from you for a good cause.
- Trail mix fundraiser. Food fundraisers are very popular. But it is not necessary to sell only candy and cookies. You also can sell snack and trail mix to your community and earn money for doing it.
- Set up a clothing drive fundraiser for your school. You can get paid by the weight of the donated clothes by Goodthrift.com.
- Watershed cleanup. Help the area around your school and community by doing a cleanup project. The idea is to solicit pledges from cleanup attendees to the tune of 10-25 cents per pound of garbage collected. You could end up with heavier items such as used tires and appliances, so set a cap on pledges from your participants - $20 is a good number.
- Donate second hand clothes and textiles that can be exchanged for cash based upon the weight of the items from Bags2School.com. Many used clothes and textiles can be repurposed into rags and other useful items.
- Reusable bag fundraiser. Reusable shopping bags are green-friendly, colorful, and of course, reusable. Encourage your community to forgo plastic shopping bags and to purchase a custom printed reusable shopping bags from your school fundraiser.
- Collect old shoes in exchange for money for your school or organization using the website ShoeRecyclingFundraiser.com.
Recycling Around the World
To find inspiration for our recycling efforts, it is a good idea to look outside the United States. Here are some cool recycling efforts going on in other countries today:
- Sweden: The Swedes are known for their passion for recycling. They are currently powering 250,000 homes with burned up waste. The garbage for many major Swedish cities is used to create electricity and heat.
- Italy: Rome is strict about recycling. If you do not separate your garbage and recyclables, you can be fined up to $800.
- Switzerland: This country has one of the highest recycling rates in the world. The reason for this is the country charges for disposing of junk. You must buy a bag for several dollars to dispose of trash. There also is a landfill ban in the country.
- Canada: Used tires are re-used on playgrounds and also are cut up and used to resurface roads.
- Germany: Germans are known to even recycle dead animals on the side of the road. They are taken to processing facilities and are rendered for their fat. The fat can be used for a variety of cosmetic products.
- Austria: It has the highest recycling rate in the world, with 63% of waste not going to landfills. By comparison, the US only recycles approximately 34% of its waste.
- Brazil: Has recently broken records with its high levels of recycling consumable packaging - 98.4%. It is especially effective in recycling aluminum, which is more expensive to produce new than recycle.
- Japan: This country has a home appliance law. If you need to throw away a large appliance, you have to pay a fee and buy a ticket. The fee depends upon how large the unit is.
- Singapore: Sends 60% of its trash to be recycled and reused.
- Belgium: Belgium is able to recycle 91% of its scrap cars, thanks to their highly evolved shredding technologies.
Recycling and Green Terms You Should Know
Below are some important recycling and green terms to know.
- Biodegradable: When a material is able to be broken down by microorganisms into essential elements such as water and carbon dioxide.
- Conserve: Protect something from being overused or being completely lost. Conservation is using natural resources wisely to avoid wasting them or entirely using them up.
- Decompose: Break down into its component parts or essential elements; to rot. Decomposition is a vital organic process needed to continue life as it creates nutrients that plants and animals need to live.
- Ecosystem: Self sufficient environment made of biological and physical characteristics.
- E-waste: Electronic components including computers, monitors, keyboards, mice, TVs, etc that contain harmful substances. Usually they can be disassembled to be recycled.
- Fossil fuels: Deposits of natural gas, coal and oil that take a long time to develop in the environment.
- Garbage: Waste food that is thrown away; does not include dry trash.
- Going green: Taking steps to recycle, conserve energy and reduce pollution in our communities.
- Groundwater: Water under the surface of the earth that flows between the soil and underlying rock. Groundwater is what is found in springs and wells. Toxic substances in some landfills can contaminate our groundwater.
- Hazardous waste: Poisonous waste, such as e-waste, that can cause an unhealthy or hazardous condition for living things or the environment.
- Humus: Organic matter from decayed vegetable materials. Provides essential nutrients for plants.
- Landfill: A place where solid waste is buried, controlled and managed. Some solid waste takes decades or centuries to degrade, so recycling these items as much as possible is important.
- Natural resource: A material that occurs naturally in the world, such as air, water, oil, minerals and trees.
- Nonrenewable resource: Natural resources that are considered finite, such as copper, coal and petroleum.
- Organic: Created from living organisms
- Pollution: Harmful substances that lead to unhealthy air, water or soil.
- Recycle: Collecting and reprocessing manufactured materials to be remanufactured either as the same product or as a different product.
- Reduce: Lessen the amount in quantity or number
- Renewable energy: Alternative forms of energy using natural resources such as wind, water (hydropower) and sun.
- Reuse: Extend the life of a product by using it again
- Sanitary landfill: A new type of landfill made to dispose of solid waste on land safely.
- Solid waste: This can include trash, garbage, industrial waste, construction waste and household items thrown away, such as furniture and appliances
- Textiles: Fabrics that make up clothes.
We hope you find this guide useful to build a successful recycling program for your home, school and community. By all of us working together, we can continue to grow our recycling efforts so that we make a better world for all of us to enjoy.
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