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Most scientific studies argue that the reduction of fossil fuel consumption is paramount to reduce the effects of climate change. We are no longer at the point where a single individual action can reduce the amount of pollution needed to make an impact. However, this should not diminish the importance of recycling, and if you don’t recycle, it’s time to start. Recycling is an easy way for people to feel like they are helping to save Mother Earth.

This is a good thing right? Well, maybe.

People use more plastic and paper when recycling was an option versus when they had to send it to the landfill. Researchers say people’s guilt for wasting is overridden by the good feelings for doing something good, but there is a reason reduce comes before recycle in the old “REDUCE. REUSE. RECYCLE.”  Reducing is the most important and most effective way to save the Earth!

I’m not saying recycling is bad!  It’s great!  Many people think that people who care about recycling also care about reducing, reusing, and other methods of reducing their footprint. It turns out there are different motivators at play.  People commonly feel guilty for using more than they need, but they feel even more positive emotion from doing the “right thing” and recycling.  This means the net feeling is good when people waste but recycle the excess.

Some of the excess that goes in the recycling may end up incinerated or sent to the landfill anyway.  This is due to contamination in the recycling process.  This is why it’s important that people don’t try to recycle things they shouldn’t.

I am definitely not telling you to stop recycling, but do think about the things you use, reduce/reuse where you can and keep recycling!

  1. CUT WASTE:  You can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and combustion facilities.  This allows for that area to be used for other reasons, ideally to be left in its natural state.  In 2013, recycling and composting kept 87.2 million tons of trash from landfills and incinerators in the United States.
  2. CONSERVE:  Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.  Now you are reducing the demand for new goods to be made from new material!
  3. PREVENT AIR POLLUTION:  Due to this decreased demand for new materials, there are more trees and plants able to reduce carbon dioxide and it will take less energy to recycle materials as opposed to create new products. This reduces greenhouse gases emissions.
  4. AND WATER POLLUTION:  With reduced manufacturing from raw material to consumer goods, there will be less waste going from the factories and into the watershed.  Recycling also prevents trash from going into bodies of water.
  5. PROTECT ANIMALS:  A world with more natural habitats and less pollution, native plants and animals will flourish!  You will also be preventing animals from eating recyclable materials that end up in their habitat.
  6. SAVE AND CREATE JOBS:  Your recycling efforts can create and sustain jobs in your community.  On a per ton basis, sorting and processing recyclable materials sustains more jobs than incineration or landfills.

If you’re not sure where to recycle in your area, check here.  This will tell you places in your area that take anything from paper to cell phones, hazardous materials to plastic!

If your school or workplace isn’t recycling, ask why!  And try to change it!  It is not too difficult to recycle and it’s definitely worth it.  Let me know if you have any questions and go recycle!!!

Kristin is studying German and Physics at the University of Mississippi. She believes it is important to see the intersectionality of environmental issues.

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