All of us may not be aware of it, but the world is throwing away 2 billion tons of trash each year. These numbers were taken from Martin Medina’s recent article (Sept.-Oct. 2008) and he added that although recycling programs are already implemented in some parts of the world, heaps are still “piling up in rapidly growing countries like China and India” (Medina 40). Another important fact Medina revealed is that China is now the world’s top garbage producer as it overtook the United States in 2004. Although Americans are recycling double of what they recycled 20 years ago, the efforts are still not enough since almost half of our trash still ends up in landfills (See Table 1).
|No data |
Table 1. Surveying the Outcome of Trash in Some Countries (Medina, 2008, p. 40)
With this, Brain (Feb 9, 2008) enumerated that we should think of “things that end up in a landfill — stuff like diapers, strong cleaning solutions, paint, rusting metal, motor oil, corroding batteries, electronic components covered in lead and all sorts of other nasty stuff” when combined with rainfall — naturally, these wastes will percolate “through the trash to hurry these chemicals along” to poison our water resources. Also, surveying the data of where the trash ends up around the world in Table 1, we can see that the maximum number of trash goes to landfills, and where space is a problem, incineration is the option (like in Japan). Both landfills and incineration are not quite good for our environment because these can produce greenhouse gases that promote global warming (Lombardi and Platt, August 2008). With the current population of the United States at 305 million, our trash grows and grows exponentially until there is something done to minimize the amount of garbage we take out of our homes. As citizens, it is only right that we do something to curb the burgeoning garbage problem until other multitudes of problems arise from it. Thus, recycling will not only be a solution to the alarming garbage problem, but it is also an easy way to help save energy and conserve resources.
Why Recycling is Important
We can trace it back to the mid-1980s when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), environmental activists, and the garbage industry have warned about an impending trash-disposal crisis. They are all informing us about the rapid running out of dumping space. The Wall Street Journal, however, reported that both industry and EPA officials knew that we had ample waste disposal space, even as we were being warned to recycle (and, not surprisingly, as waste companies were pushing up prices):
“I’ve always wondered where that crap about a landfill-capacity crisis came from,” says Allen Geswein, an EPA solid-waste official … The EPA, when asked, now agrees that there isn’t any capacity shortage. Yet materials the agency continues to distribute warn of a shortage and cite it as one of the reasons for recycling (Bailey A1).
Of course, concern about the availability of landfill sites is not the only reason to support recycling. Recycling also turns materials that would otherwise become waste into useable resources, which can reduce dependence on new materials. With new materials, we can also save trees from deforestation or minerals from being depleted. Recycling can also reduce the amount of waste that is burned in incinerators, reducing particulate matter and other pollutants that would otherwise be released into the air. The EPA website reported that the number of solid waste landfills fell to 3,581 in 1995 from 5,300 in 1992, while the national goal of recycling 25 percent of municipal garbage was reached in 1995. Later on, as Medina’s recent article (Sept.-Oct. 2008) reported, Americans have greatly reduced their waste in landfills to 55 percent.
The EPA also recognized the economic benefits of recycling because it can give jobs to people and save up valuable resources that cost much money when bought from producers. In the EPA website, they reported that “the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive estimates that recycling and remanufacturing industries account for approximately one million manufacturing jobs and more than $100 billion in revenue”. In fact, “recycling employs low-, medium-, and highly-skilled workers in a variety of jobs—from materials handling and processing to high-quality product manufacturing”. In this case, we can reap financial benefits in our “drive for efficient handling and use of recycled materials” that can spell long-term economic growth, where “investments in recycling equipment and the companies themselves… filter through the economy and contribute to economic growth”.
Other government agencies around the world have also joined the bandwagon of recycling to be able to contribute to creating a sustainable environment for the future and prevent the effects of global warming. In the European Union, they generate about 4 billion tons of waste annually (I Gaballah 24). In the report of I Gaballah (2001), it was estimated that the total amount of hazardous waste generated in Western Europe accounted for approximately 27 million tons of garbage during the mid-1990s. During that time, land-filling and incineration are the practices most used to treat and dispose of hazardous waste. In general, hazardous wastes are most commonly disposed of in landfills. However, with the implementation of the European Council Directive on land-filling of waste, land-filling will be regulated and restricted in the near future. Consequently, the need to develop recycling opportunities is important and vital for environmental protection and resources sustainability. In addition to its environmental benefits, recycling will provide economic benefits. Since the development of metallurgical techniques in Europe during the 16th century, 17 large amounts of base metals have accumulated. Consequently, and because of potential savings in energy, mineral resources, and gaseous emissions, secondary metal production is expected to dominate during the 21st century in Europe (I Gabbalah, p. 24).
Indeed, the importance of recycling is not just an issue we would that can be taken with complacency because as population growth around the world is growing – more people mean more waste. With more people, there will also be more needs for raw materials to produce products we need to use. To be able to sustain the resources we need, it is just necessary to save up on renewable materials to be able to enjoy these things in the future. With recycling, we will be able to sustain our needs for raw materials in the future, plus it will be environment-friendly rather than putting our trash in incinerators or landfills. It needs a little more effort than usual but the benefits of recycling are definitely better off than the environmental hazards that we can get from incinerating our trash or putting them in landfills.
Recycling: Batteries are Included
For example, in our homes, schools, and workplaces, electricity is a crucial source of energy to make some of our tools work to help us with our current digital lifestyle. From our cars, laptops, hearing aids, calculators, and cellular phones, all these things require that portable electricity that flows from batteries. When there are power interruptions, batteries are used to rev up commuter trains, hospital facilities, and military operations. However, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (20 December 2007) reported that “Americans use nearly 3 billion dry-cell batteries every year to power radios, toys, cellular phones, watches, laptop computers, and portable power tools”. The usefulness of batteries in our current lifestyle is undeniably clear. But what is critical is how we get rid of these batteries when they are no longer useful. These batteries contain harmful chemicals that, when improperly disposed of, could deleteriously affect our environment. These batteries can contain poisonous cadmium, lead, and sulfuric acid that can seep into our landfills and be released into the ocean where they can kill sea creatures. When sea creatures have an intake of these substances, humans and other animals that consume seafood are also at risk.
Millstone confirmed that the biggest use of lead worldwide is for the lead-acid battery that is used in most cars and vehicles. Lead is particularly suitable for batteries, because of its characteristics (conductivity, resistance to corrosion, and the special reversible reaction between lead oxide and sulfuric acid). When lead-acid batteries are not disposed of properly, lead does not break down over time and, in some places, large amounts of it remain in the air, soil, and water. Lead poisoning can affect fetuses and children under age 7 because their nervous systems are still developing and because their body mass is so small that they ingest and absorb more lead per pound than adults. Even 10 micrograms (millionths of a gram) of lead per deciliter of blood—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) standard for lead poisoning—can kill a child’s brain cells and cause poor concentration, reduced short-term memory, slower reaction times, and learning disabilities (Millstone 15). On the other hand, adults exposed to low levels of lead (which once were thought to be safe) may develop headaches, high blood pressure, irritability, tremors, and insomnia. Health effects increase with exposure to higher levels and include anemia, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, and constipation. Long-term exposure can impair fertility and damage the kidneys. Workers exposed to lead may become sterile or suffer irreversible kidney disease, damage to their central nervous system, stillbirths, or miscarriages (Millstone, p. 18).
On the other hand, sulfuric acid on lead-acid batteries can also be detrimental to our environment. Beyond what we know, sulfuric acid can mix with groundwater and soil causing these to become acidic and harmful to plants and wildlife. Commonly known as “acid rain”, sulfuric acid triggers acid deposition that “adversely affected lakes and forests in the northeastern United States, Canada, and Europe”. Due to the “gradual leaching of soil nutrients from sustained acid deposition”, forests and wildlife are even affected with “potential risk depends on numerous factors, including rate of cation (positively charged ion) deposition, soil cation reserves, age of forest, weathering rates, species composition, and disturbance history” (Lippmann, p. 18).
With the onset of concern towards the harmful components of batteries, the Universal Waste Rule, an amendment to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) was initiated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1995 in order to reduce some of the “administrative and financial barriers to collection and recycling of batteries and other potentially hazardous household products” (Ford-Martin, p. 114). The intention of such a program is to make “recycling of lead batteries easier and more profitable to recycle would lead to more extensive recycling programs. The rule streamlined the regulatory process for businesses and excluded rechargeable batteries from hazardous waste handling requirements. However, individual states had the final determination over whether or not to adopt the amendment” (Ford-Martin, p. 114).
In recycling lead-acid batteries, the process is very similar to the primary lead production process. The main differences are in material preparation before reduction, which affects plant size since there is no need for sintering. The recycling sequential steps normally are the separation of the plastic case (using hammers or saws), acid removal, separation of the plastic, metallic lead and paste separation, reduction, refining, and casting. Acid, polypropylene, and lead are recovered in the recycling process (Espinosa et al. 313). The fact is that there are many organizations that can help people dispose of their batteries, like Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC). People can just call their hotline or find a recycling location convenient to them and the RBRC will take care of their waste batteries.
Taking Action, Rather than Getting Alarmed
Apart from just getting alarmed about the trash numbers, there are things we can do in order to lessen the amount of garbage we take out of our homes. In fact, more and more Americans realize now that recycling is not just a fad, but it is a necessity in a world fraught with global warming and pollution. Hamilton (2002) recounted that it was in the late 1990s when recycling grabbed the mainstream headlines “when the nation seemed to be facing a garbage crisis”, where not only “the alley trash cans filled to overflowing, but so, too, were the nation’s landfills”. When the media started featuring the alarming trash situation, “many Americans changed their habits and set up separate containers for their recyclable wastes”. Thus, the EPA reported that “there were 9,000 curbside pickup programs and 12,000 drop-off centers nationwide” in 1998, and “safer landfills have been built, including ‘mega fields in Virginia, Pennsylvania and other states that take out-of-state garbage as well as their local waste”.
With the concern of Americans over the importance of recycling, the EPA has stepped their programs in order to assist people in the goal of recycling wastes to be able to uphold the sustainability of their efforts to curb the garbage problem. On the EPA Website, they spelled out the clear benefits of recycling our waste:
- Recycling protects and expands U.S. manufacturing jobs and increases U.S. competitiveness.
- Recycling reduces the need for landfilling and incineration.
- Recycling prevents pollution caused by the manufacturing of products from virgin materials.
- Recycling saves energy.
- Recycling decreases emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change.
- Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.
- Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations.
Along with these steps, the EPA website gave some tips on how to sort waste materials and supported the call to buy recycled products. The EPA also supports tax laws, virgin materials subsidies, business regulations, environmental laws, land use requirements, the commerce clause, flow control, the Public Utilities and Regulatory Act that help shape what sort of waste management system that Americans need currently. Yet, Platt (2000) thought that these rules favor a one-way flow of materials from the producer, to the consumer, to the dump or incinerator, and a system in which trash collection and disposal is falsely viewed as cost-effective while more efficient materials use through source reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting is falsely viewed as having to pay for itself. Right now, 55 percent of American solid waste ends up in landfills, and some more end in incinerators. With this, we still need to establish rules that will instead fashion a system in which materials are produced and utilized efficiently with minimal environmental impacts and maximum sustainable economic development benefits.
Although we just tackled battery recycling as just one step of the ladder we have to go through in order to minimize the wastes we make each year, we can still do numerous things in our homes by recycling them properly rather than putting these materials in a trash bin. The EPA website has sufficient information on how we can help curb the waste we make in our homes. By simply separating our trash into biodegradable and non-biodegradable, it will be a great help to reduce our trash. We can sell bottles, newspapers, and metal trash to junk shops and we can actually have extra money out of our trash. As the world’s resources are diminished, recycling is not only environment-friendly but can also produce primary raw materials that can be used for other things. To recycle and reuse waste to the maximum possible extent should not only be promoted in batteries but to other things as well. Reducing the quantity of unrecoverable waste and disposing of toxic wastes as safely as possible, it can benefit people more in a proactive way and we can save our natural resources sustainably so that our children may still enjoy these in the future.
- Bailey, Jeff. “Curbside Recycling Comforts the Soul, but Benefits Are Scant,” The Wall Street Journal, (1995): A1.
- Brain, Marshall. “A Lot of Technology Goes into a Making a Landfill”, Tribune – Review/Pittsburgh Tribune – Review, [Greensburg, Pa.]. 2008, ProQuest Newsstand. ProQuest. Web.
- Espinosa, Romano, Crocce, Denise, Moura, Bernardes Andrea and Tenorio, Jorge Alberto Soares. An Overview on the Current Processes for the Recycling of Batteries, Journal of Power Sources, 135.1-2(2004): 311-319.
- Ford-Martin, Paula Anne. Battery Recycling. In Bortman, Marci, Brimblecombe, Peter, Cunningham, Mary Ann, Cunningham, William P., and Freedman, William (eds.), Environmental Encyclopedia, vol 1 (3rd Ed.). Farmington Hills, MI: Gale, 2003. pp. 114-115.
- Hamilton, Martha McNeil. “Is Recycling Being Canned?; Budget Constraints, Other Factors Slowing Progress” The Washington Post (2001): H01.
- I Gaballah, N Kanari. Recycling Policy in the European Union. JOM, 53.11 (2001): 24.
- Lippmann, Morton. “Acid Rain”. In Breslow, Walter (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Public Health, vol. 1. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 2002. pp. 15-16.
- Lombardi, Eric and Platt, Brenda. “Stop Trashing the Climate”, Biocycle – Advancing Composting, Organics Recycling & Renewable Energy (2008).
- Medina, Martin. “Talking Trash (PRIME NUMBERS).” Foreign Policy 168 (2008): 40-41.
- Millstone, Erik. Lead and Public Health: The Dangers for Children. Philadelphia, PA: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 1997.
- Platt, Brenda. “Recycling Is Economical.” In Roleff, Tamara L. (Ed.), Opposing Viewpoints: Pollution, San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2000.
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Batteries, (2007).
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Economic Benefits, (2008).
- US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Recycling, (2008).