Last Sunday was Earth Day, so people may be thinking about our environment and probably about recycling.

With the increasing trend in this country to see things in black and white, some may decide that recycling is not worthwhile if it doesn’t save them money or can’t reverse all environmental problems. Why bother? Just hop in the SUV and forget the whole thing. But while reduce, reuse, recycle may not be the answer to global warming, it is still worth doing.

Recycling does reduce the amount of trash that goes into landfills, and who needs more stuff in landfills? Of course, it is better not to be wasteful to begin with. We certainly should be doing more to move toward a sustainable system for using resources, but that does not mean we should give up and do nothing until then (as much as that would delight oil companies). It just means that one action is not enough. A change of attitude, even lifestyle, is needed.

The slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle” is a good one, and in the proper order. We can all use the power of the marketplace to pressure companies to offer less wasteful products and operate in a more sustainable manner. We can do more with our own choices than many think.

Glass is something to consider. Glass is a perfect recyclable material, so buy or use glass containers wherever possible. Glass is durable, non-reactive, non-corroding, easy to clean and easy to melt down and reuse as new products. It is made from a natural material– essentially sand– that is abundant.

One of the worst trends to appear in recent years is the increased replacement of glass containers with plastic ones. Manufacturers argue that shipping plastic uses less energy, but that is about saving money shipping goods from overseas. Better to package in glass locally and save the energy (and cost) of shipping great distances. This is what the country used to do, and doing so again would add jobs in addition to saving energy.  Arguments that overseas labor is cheap conceal the real issue: that our tax laws favor imported goods over domestically made ones.

    Here are some other reasons to recycle, from naturalist  Leah Thorpe. Her sources include: Anchorage Recycling Center, University of Colorado at Boulder, The Resourceful Schools Project, Oberlin College Recycling Program, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Glass Packaging Institute and Glass Recycling and the Environment.

On the topic of paper, Thorpe says: “We can save more space in our landfills by recycling paper products than any other materials. 44 million newspapers are thrown away every day in the United States. This is like throwing 500,000 trees into a landfill each week. Each ton of recycled paper can save 17 trees, 380 gallons of oil and 7000 gallons of water. If each person were to reuse a paper shopping bag for just one trip to the store, we would save 60,000 trees.”

On the topic of aluminum: “It takes about 95 percent less energy to make aluminum from recycled aluminum than to make it from raw materials. Aluminum dumped into our landfills today will remain there for over 200 years.”

On the topic of plastics: “Plastic bags made from recycled polythene rather than virgin materials save two-thirds of the energy required for production and reduce the water used by almost 90 percent. It is still difficult to recycle plastic containers and make them into new containers for food and beverages because the separation process for the various different types and colors of plastics is labor intensive and not cost efficient. The best option is to reduce plastic wastes by purchasing items that have less packaging.”

On the topic of glass: “Glass is 100 percent recyclable and can go from the recycling bin to a store shelf in as little as 30 days. Approximately 80 percent of recycled glass containers are made into new glass bottles and glass can be reused an infinite number of times. Recycling one ton of glass saves the equivalent of nine gallons of fuel oil and one-sixth of a ton of carbon dioxide. Making a glass container from a recycled container creates about 20 percent less air pollution, 50 percent less water pollution and uses only about half the energy of making it from virgin materials.”

by Cate Marquis, science columnist and A&E Editor for The Current