What is Recycling?
At its best, recycling is the process of turning used paper, plastic, metal, and glass products into new products that can also be easily recycled.
The Benefits of Recycling
Recycling relieves pressure on our natural resources, saves energy, helps keep valuable materials out of landfills and incinerators, and creates jobs.
Recycling isn’t just the right thing to do, it also makes economic sense. It helps taxpayers and communities avoid expensive disposal costs and instead return valuable materials back to the commodities market. But even with all the benefits of recycling, waste reduction and reuse are still the best ways to manage materials.
Recycling Quick Facts
- Recycling one ton of plastic saves 30 cubic yards of landfill space.
- Recycling one ton of aluminum saves 39.6 barrels of oil.
- Recycling one ton of paper saves 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil, 4000 kilowatts of energy, and 7000 gallons of water.
- In 2015, the U.S. prevented emissions equivalent to that released by 38.8 million passenger vehicles by recycling.
- About 40% of household trash in Maine is organic materials, which can be recycled in a process called composting.
What Can You Do to Help Recycling in Maine?
- Start with other two Rs—reduce and reuse. It’s always best to create less waste in the first place. Recycling is one way we can deal with our excessive waste, but ideally we would have less to begin with. Take a look at your household trash and see what you are making the most of and then make some changes to prevent it from being in there. Then tackle another type of your waste, and so on...
- Demand recycling reform! One key problem with recycling programs is that the producers of our products and packaging are not the same people who are left to clean up the mess it creates—or to pay for it. There is no incentive for corporations to create products and packaging that are recyclable or made with recycled content. Learn about how NRCM’s recycling reform campaign aims to make recycling more fair for Mainers!
- Recycle right. Find out what your town accepts and follow it closely—keep it posted on your fridge or above your recycling bin. Just because you wish or think something should be recyclable, it doesn’t mean it is. The recycling symbol can be confusing, because it only indicates the type of material it is, not whether or not it is recyclable locally. Download ecomaine’s Recylopedia app even if your town doesn’t send your recycling there. It has useful information for anyone with a recycling question.
- Redeem your beverage containers. Maine’s Bottle Bill produces our cleanest recycled containers, reduces litter, creates jobs, and alleviates taxpayer expense. About 90% of Maine’s beverage containers are recycled—that’s more than double the average town’s recycling rate. Given the collapse of some local recycling programs, it’s essential that Mainers continue to at least recycle our beverage containers at redemption centers.
- Buy stuff made with recycled content. When you must buy something, get in the habit of checking the label and opting for products that use post-consumer recycled content. Educate yourself on the brands and products that use recycled content, and contact companies that you buy from to request that they use recycled content in their manufacturing process because it helps strengthen the recycled commodities markets.
- Encourage participation in recycling programs. Your town may have a decent recycling program, but not everyone takes advantage of it. One of the most effective ways to increase participation in recycling is through a pay-as-you-throw program, where people pay for each bag of waste they create. That creates an incentive to recycle as much as possible to avoid paying for bags.
- Support and take advantage of Maine’s Product Stewardship laws: Product Stewardship and Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws are an integral part of recycling and waste management in Maine. These practices have worked for decades to keep valuable or toxic materials out of landfills and the environment and saved countless tax-dollars by taking the burden of waste management off local governments and taxpayers.
Is Maine Good at Recycling?
Maine can’t seem to recycle more than 40% of our waste. Since 1989, our state has been chasing a goal of recycling 50% of our discarded materials, but we have consistently come up short. Now our already weak recycling rate is presumed to be declining.
Based on a University of Maine study, we know that about 35% percent of what is currently in our household garbage bags could instead be recycled or composted, which could bump us up to a 75% recycling rate if residents had access to comprehensive recycling programs.
A robust recycling program is one that collects plastics #1-#7, mixed paper, cardboard, newspaper, aluminum, steel, glass, leaf and yard waste, food scraps, and harder-to-recycle items like rigid plastics, bulky wastes, and any potentially toxic universal or hazardous wastes that don’t belong in the landfill or incinerator.
The Natural Resources Council of Maine is analyzing which towns have access to recycling what materials, and so far have found that recycling programs vary wildly and there are a lot of materials not being collected.
Our local recycling efforts have global implications and vice-versa. Manufacturers, recycling servicers, and governments share the responsibility to create a well-functioning global recycling industry. It is not fair or sustainable to send our waste to developing countries. Instead, we need to plan for recycling and ensure that our valuable resources aren’t wasted or pollute the environment.
- Manufacturers need to produce materials that can be recycled and/or are made from recycled materials.
- Governments need to implement better rules around waste disposal and recycling, and recycling servicers need to improve communication to the public.
- If it’s functioning correctly, then all people have to do is put the recyclables in the correct bin.