The idea of recycling isn’t a new one. For thousands of years metal items have been recycled by melting and reforming them into new weapons or tools. It is said that the broken pieces of the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue deemed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, was recycled for scrap. During the Industrial Revolution, recyclers began to form businesses and later trade associations, dealing in the collection, trade and processing of metals and paper.
America’s Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), a trade association with more than 1,400 member companies, traces its roots back to one such organization founded in 1913. In the 1930s many people survived the Great Depression by peddling scraps of metal, rags and other items. Reuse and recycling were often economic necessities. Recycling also played an important role during World War II when scrap metal was turned into weapons.
Since 1960, the amount of municipal waste being collected in America has nearly tripled. In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash, and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.4 pounds per person per day.
Recycling has many benefits. It reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and incinerators and conserves natural resources such as timber, water and minerals. Recycling increases economic security by tapping a domestic source of materials while preventing pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials. It supports American manufacturing and conserves valuable resources, and recycling helps create jobs in the recycling and manufacturing industries in the United States.
A 2016 Environmental Protection Agency study found that in a single year, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 757,000 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages and $6.7 billion in tax revenues. This equates to 1.57 jobs, $76,000 in wages, and $14,101 in tax revenues for every 1,000 tons of materials recycled.
Recycling and composting prevented 87.2 million tons of material away from being disposed in 2013, up from 15 million tons in 1980. This prevented the release of approximately 186 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into the air in 2013 – equivalent to taking over 39 million cars off the road for a year.
According to the EPA’s estimates, virtually all the greenhouse benefits – more than 90 percent – come from just a few materials: paper, cardboard and metals like the aluminum in soda cans. That’s because recycling 1 ton of metal or paper saves about 3 tons of carbon dioxide, a much bigger payoff than the other materials analyzed by the EPA.
Recycling 1 ton of plastic saves slightly more than 1 ton of carbon dioxide. A ton of food saves a little less than a ton. For glass, you have to recycle 3 tons in order to get about 1 ton of greenhouse benefits. Worst of all is yard waste: it takes 20 tons of it to save a single ton of carbon dioxide.
So it takes effort and dedication and hard work to make even a slight difference, but slight differences have to be made to create a larger change.
Despite all of this, Kingman is talking about scrapping the curbside recycling program. It isn’t the only city which has faced problems with a recycling program. Ocala, Florida, approved a rate increase for its recycling program last month and Boulder City, Nevada, increased fees there as well. Sioux Falls, South Dakota, raised hauling fees largely to cover the cost of handling glass, and Pendelton, Oregon, raised its garbage fees in part because recycling revenues have dropped.
The burden of paying for recycling falls on cities – or residents who pay for the trash service – because the U.S. has not followed the path of many European countries of requiring manufacturers to take responsibility for the disposal or recovery of their products and packaging.
However, the burden shouldn’t be a deterrent to maintaining a recycling program. In most cases, recycling is better for the environment, and one of Kingman’s biggest draws is its environment. We market ourselves as a Route 66 stopping point, but when that route takes tourists through a desert filled with bags, bottles, tires and paper, it doesn’t reflect well on us.
It isn’t just individuals who have to recycle, it’s also businesses. Local grocery stores should be held responsible for cleaning up the plastic bags in the parking lot so they don’t blow across the road and into the desert. Stores should also encourage the use of reusable bags, giving some kind of incentive for purchasing them at the store and bringing them back the next time. Local businesses should have paper and aluminum recycling in the buildings and encourage employees to recycle their soda cans or newsletters.
That isn’t to say individuals shouldn’t also be responsible. There are plenty of ways you can make a difference, even if you don’t think so. National brands offer year-round recycling drives and free shipping to recycling facilities. There are recycling drives throughout the year when you can drop off old TVs and computers, as well as drop off points for other recyclables at Bashas’, Centennial Park, Fire Fighters Park, Louise and Railroad avenues, Mohave County Public Works, the north Safeway and Southside Park.
Every single pound matters, so don’t mistake apathy for insignificance.
The environment is important and protecting it more so. We need to make sure our children’s children and their children’s children several hundred years in the future can look around and not see a wasteland. We’re already losing so much of our natural beauty with the ice caps melting, and our water levels dropping.
We should fight to keep the rest of our lands beautiful and make certain they don’t turn into floating islands of trash.