This post is a bit of a follow-up to a previous post that looked beyond the monetary costs of wooden pallets in the supply chain. The figures mentioned in that post had me astounded even as I was writing it. That got me thinking that maybe writing a post that compared facts on different types of recyclable materials might be interesting and a little bit educational as well.
The logistics industry is huge, making up 8.5% of GDP, representing $1.3 trillion and employing almost 500 million people worldwide. The vast U.S. logistics business alone delivers 48 million tons of freight (worth about $48 billion) daily and employs roughly 6 million people. With these kinds of numbers I like to think that the industry “could” be a model recycling engine to initiate sustainability practices on a global scale. Unfortunately, as this is being written, the logistics industry as a whole is not performing anywhere close to that model. With this many people working in a single industry we might consider a more collaborative effort to effect change in our industry for ourselves and future generations.
The following facts and figures may be a bit of an eye-opener for many as I know it certainly was for me. I’m hoping it will offer some insights towards sustainability through recycling; the starting point of a circular economy. To start, we’ll take a look at the various materials that are currently being recycled and how each compares.
- About 65 % of aluminum is currently recycled.
- Every minute an average of 123,097 aluminum cans are recycled. That amounts to 53 billion cans recycled in 2010.
- The amount of energy saved just from recycling cans in 2010 is equal to the energy equivalent of 17 million barrels of crude oil, or nearly two days of all U.S. oil imports.
- The average aluminum can contains more than 68% post-consumer recycled aluminum.
- An aluminum can recycled today will be back on the grocery shelf in about 60 days.
- Cans made from recycled aluminum take 95% less energy than making cans from virgin ore.
- 20 recycled aluminum cans can be manufactured with the energy needed to produce one can from virgin ore.
- Making beverage cans from recycled aluminum cuts air pollution by about 95%.
- More than ten million tons of aluminum containers and packaging (soda cans, TV dinner trays, aluminum foil) are thrown away each year.
- Americans throw away enough aluminum every three months to rebuild their entire commercial air fleet.
- The aluminum cans recycled in 2010, stacked one on top of the other, would be 1,454 times taller than the Empire State Building.
- If you laid all the aluminum cans recycled in 2010 end to end, they could circle the earth 169 times.
- Last year, approximately 36 billion aluminum cans were landfilled in the U.S. alone. The cans that were thrown away had an estimated scrap value of more than $1.1 billion.
- The pollutants created in producing one ton of aluminum include 3,290 pounds of red mud, 2,900 pounds of carbon dioxide, 81 pounds of air pollutants and 789 pounds of solid wastes.
- Tossing away an aluminum can wastes as much energy as pouring out half of that can’s volume of gasoline.
- Glass never wears out — it can be recycled over and over again.
- Most bottles and jars contain at least 70% recycled glass.
- Every day, Americans recycle about 13 million glass jars and bottles.
- Americans recycle enough glass each year to fill Giants Stadium more than 3 ½ times.
- In 2009, 12 million tons of glass was generated in the U.S., and 3 million tons were recovered.
- If all the glass bottles and jars collected through recycling in the U.S. were laid end to end, they’d reach the moon and back again.
- In 2009, Americans threw away almost 9 million tons of glass. That amount could fill enough tractor trailers to stretch from New York to Los Angeles and back.
- Over a ton of resources is saved for every ton of glass recycled — 1,330 pounds of sand, 433 pounds of soda ash, 433 pounds of limestone, and 151 pounds of feldspar.
- Producing a ton of glass from 100% raw materials creates 384 pounds of mining waste. Using 50% recycled glass cuts this waste by about 75%.
- Recycling glass reduces air pollution by 14-20% and saves 25-32% more energy than making glass from virgin raw materials.
- Paper and paperboard account for more than 60% of all materials diverted from the municipal solid waste stream for recycling and composting.
- Americans now recover 40% of all paper used.
- Everyday, U.S. paper makers recycle enough paper to fill a 15 mile long train of boxcars.
- At the turn of the century, recovered paper is expected to supply 40% of all fiber used to make paper and paperboard products.
- U.S. paper recovery last year saved more than 90 million cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling corrugated cardboard cuts the emissions of sulfur dioxide in half and uses about 25% less energy than making cardboard from virgin pulp.
- Every Sunday, nearly 90% of the recyclable newspapers in the U.S. are thrown away; the equivalent to dumping 500,000 trees into a landfill every week.
- In 2010, Americans recovered 63.5% of U.S. paper— an 89% increase in recovery since 1990. However, they threw away $2.8 billion worth of paper.
- In 2010, Americans trashed enough paper to cover 26,700 football fields or 17,800 soccer fields in paper three feet deep.
- American’s throw away enough office & writing paper annually to build a wall 12-ft. high stretching from Los Angeles to New York City.
- If everyone in the U.S. recycled just 1/10 of their newsprint, we would save the equivalent of about 25 million trees a year.
- If all morning newspapers read in this the country were recycled, 41,000 trees would be saved daily and 6 million tons of waste would never end up in landfills.
- Producing one ton of recycled paper uses 64% less energy, and 58% less water than to producing one ton of paper products from virgin wood pulp.
- Producing one ton of recycled paper creates 74% less air pollution, 35% less water pollution; and saves 17 trees compared to producing one ton of paper products from virgin wood.
- 31% of the paper and paperboard recovered in the U.S. in 2010 went to produce containerboard (i.e. corrugated boxes) and 12% went to produce boxboard (i.e. cereal boxes).
- As of 2010, 80 percent of U.S. paper mills (115 mills) relied on recycled paper. In fact, it supplied 37 percent of their material.
- Nearly 40% of the paper collected for recycling in the U.S. in 2010 was exported to China and other nations.
- It takes 24 trees to make one ton of uncoated virgin (non-recycled) printing and office paper.
- Using recycled scrap paper instead of virgin material saves 7,000 gallons of water per ton of paper produced.
There are seven basic types of plastic. You can tell what kind of plastic a container is made of by looking at the recycling symbol on the bottom:
#1: PET(E) – Polytethylene terephthalate
#2: HDPE -High Density Polyethylene
#3: PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride
#4: LDPE – Low Density Polyethylene
#5: PP – Polypropylene
#6: PS – Polystyrene
7: Other (mixed plastics)
In 1995, Americans recycled 9.5% of all plastic packaging, including 26% of all plastic bottles.
- In 2009, 2.12 million tons of plastics (of all kinds) were recycled in the United States. However, that was only 7.1% of all plastics generated in 2009.
Approximately 19.0 million tons of plastic waste was generated in 1995.
- In 2009, almost 30 million tons of plastics were generated in the United States, and only around 2 million tons were recovered.
- In 2009, the plastic bottle recycling rate reached a record high of 2.5 billion pounds, or 28% of all plastic bottles consumed in the United States.
- In 2009, $485 million worth of plastic was wasted in the United States. That’s enough for 1,000 households to live on the U.S. median income for nearly a decade.
The “#1” (PET) and “#2” (HDPE) plastics are most commonly recycled. Markets for other plastics are currently limited; so most recycling programs do not accept them.
#1 Plastics: PET, or Polytehylene terephthalate
- The first PET bottle was recycled in 1977.
The most common use for recycled PET is for textiles. PET can also be spun to make fiber filling for pillows, quilts and jackets.
Five PET bottles yield enough fiber for one extra large T-shirt, one square foot of carpet, or enough fiber fill to fill one ski jacket.
It takes 25 two-liter PET bottles to make a sweater.
It takes 35 two-liter PET bottles to make enough fiberfill for a sleeping bag.
- If all 8 billion pounds of plastic bottles produced in the U.S. in 2009 had been recycled, the material could have produced 22 million extra large t-shirts.
- The amount of plastic bottles recycled in 2009, provided enough raw material for about 7 million shirts to be made.
Half of all polyester carpet made in the U.S. is made from recycled PET.
Approximately 25% of all PET bottles were recycled in 1996.
- By 2013 the PET bottle recycling rate had increased to 30.9%.
The average household generates 17 pounds of PET bottles annually.
- Every pound of recycled PET used in place of virgin material reduces energy use in plastic production by 84% and greenhouse gas emissions by 71%
- In 2009, over 855 million pounds of plastic bags and wraps were recycled in the U.S. – up 31% percent from 2005.
- Americans recycled 200 million more pounds of plastic bags and film in 2009 than we recycled in 2005.
#2 Plastics: HDPE, or High Density Polyethylene
HDPE can be recycled into plastic pipes, plastic lumber, flower pots, trashcans, or bottles used for non-food applications (for example, soaps).
More than 310,000 tons of HDPE was made from recycled materials in 1996.
The HDPE recycling rate in 1996 was 13.9 percent.
- The recycling rate for HDPE bottles today has risen to 31.6%, while recycling of all types of plastic bottles has reach nearly 2.8 billion pounds (1.2 million tonnes) – an increases of some 161 million pounds (73,000 tonnes).
- The U.S. throw away more than 400 million scrap tires each year.
- In 1996, 202 million scrap tires were recovered for reuse or recycling. About 152 million of these were used to make tire-derived fuel.
- Recycling and reuse of scrap tires has grown from about 11 % in 1990 to over 70 percent today.
- 200,000 tons of crumb rubber were recovered from waste tires in 1996.
- Scrap tire rubber can be used for a number of applications including:
- Road paving. Including rubber in paving material can improve the life of the pavement, minimize ice accumulation, reduce hydroplaning, and reduce road noise.
- Recycled rubber can be used at levels as high as 50 % in manufacturing new tires.
- To manufacture athletic surfaces, play areas, landfill liners, and sheet rubber for manufacturing products.
- As a source of rubber for manufacturing molded rubber products.
- As fuel for various manufacturing processes. Tire derived fuel (TDF) is cheaper than oil, and has an equivalent heating value. TDF also has a lower sulfur and nitrogen content than oil, so air emissions are often better.
Why Recycle Tires?
Tires are a disposal problem because they won’t stay buried in landfills. Whole tires trap air and/or methane gas, causing tires to “float” to the surface.
- Disease-carrying Mosquitoes. Water collects in tires providing a perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Scrap tires that aren’t recycled often end up in tire “dumps”. These dumps pose a number of health and environmental threats including:
Risk of tire fires. Tires don’t catch fire easily, but when they do catch fire, they burn very hot and are very difficult to extinguish.
Water sprayed on burning tires cools them down, producing an oily run-off that can contaminate surface and groundwater.
Heat from tire fires causes some of the rubber to break down into an oily material, increasing the likelihood of surface and groundwater pollution.
- In 1997 more than 600 steel cans were recycled every second in the U.S. Enough steel was recovered from cans in 1997 (1.7 million tons) to build the Eiffel Tower!
- Today, with a 66.2% recycling rate, steel containers are one of the most recycled materials in the United States. Every minute, approximately 20,000 steel cans are recycled in the United States.
- Appliance Recycling in 1997 yielded more than 2.3 million tons of steel – enough to build 88 new professional baseball stadiums.
- In 2009, 16 million tons of steel were generated in the U.S., and 5 million tons were recovered.
- Each year, more steel is recycled than aluminum, paper, glass and plastic combined.
- In the past 50 years, more than 50 percent of the steel produced in this country has been recycled through the steel making process.
- Today, steel producers in the United States use more than 70% recycled steel.
- The 13 million cars recycled in 1997 would circle the earth more than one and three-quarter times.
- In 2009, Americans threw away 10.39 million tons of steel. That amounts to more than $3 billion in wasted material, or enough to buy lunch for everyone in the United States.
- Steel recycling is good business! The Auto scrap recycling business has over $3.7 billion in sales annually, and employs 40,000 people at more than 7,000 businesses in the U.S.
- Recycled steel is used to make new steel products including packaging, cars, lawnmowers, appliances, and construction materials. All new steel products contain at least some recycled steel.
- In 1997, Americans recycled 61% of their steel cans, 81% of their steel appliances, and over 97% of their automotive scrap metal.
- Making new steel products from recycled steel instead of virgin ore reduces water use by 40%, water pollution by 76%, air pollution by 86%, and mining wastes by 97%.
- Steel recycling saves energy:
- It takes four times more energy to make steel from virgin ore than from recycled steel.
- Enough energy is saved each year by recycling steel to supply the city of Los Angeles with almost a decade worth of electricity.
- For every ton of steel recycled, 2500 pounds of iron ore, 1000 pounds of coal and 40 pounds of limestone are preserved.
- The average American throws out about 61 lbs. of steel or bi-metal cans every month.
- Recycling steel and tin cans saves between 60 and 74 percent of the energy used to produce them from raw materials.
The purpose of this particular post is not to shame any single person, place or entity but, rather to shed some light on our cumulative misgivings regarding recycling. As massive as the global logistics industry has become we are a force to be reckoned with and it seems to this writer that we could be playing a much greater role in leading the charge towards sustainability. The industry itself touches the lives of every living thing on this planet. With that kind of effect we might be able to work together to create a tipping point towards sustainability and offer that model for the world to emulate. So, what do YOU think? Is recycling worth the efforts? Which makes the most sense to recycle to you? I look forward to hearing your comments.
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it” ~ Robert Shaw
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