Why is reuse more energy efficient than recycling


Waste Watchers Worksheet

Every day, every person in Georgia generates an average of 8 pounds of waste. This is all the stuff we throw away, recycle, or compost - like paper, plastic and glass bottles, soda cans, wrappers and other packaging, food scraps, etc. Think about it: 8 lbs a day - that's nearly 3000 lbs a year! Sounds like a good time to start watching our waste and finding ways to cut back how much trash we create.
Out of sight, out of mind?

Once all that stuff is thrown away or recycled, it's easy to not think about it anymore. But no matter where it came from, or where it eventually ends up, waste impacts our environment in a number of ways. The garbage truck that picks up our trash and takes it to the dump is most likely fueled by diesel or gasoline, which means it emits carbon dioxide, soot and other pollution as it travels on its way. After being dumped at the landfill, garbage decomposes and releases methane, a greenhouse gas 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Incinerating garbage also generates carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Also consider what it took to manufacture that item in the first place - from harvesting, extracting, and processing raw materials, packaging and transporting the goods, etc. Making "stuff" can be a very energy-intensive activity.

Waste not, want not

So what can be done? Clearly not buying or using stuff is the easiest solution -but sometimes that's not always possible. The next best practice is to reduce, reuse, and recycle items or products.

Reduce. Buying and using less when you can reduces the amount of stuff you acquire in the first place, which in turn reduces the waste you produce. Ways to reduce might include bringing your own shopping bag to the store, so you use one less paper or plastic bag. Printing on both sides of paper reduces how much paper you need to print the same document.

Reuse. Reusing items as often as you can also helps. Borrow books, CDs, or DVDs from the library - or a friend! - rather than buy new ones. Turn ripped jeans into shorts, buttons into jewelry, and old newspaper into wrapping paper. Or donate items such as clothes, books, furniture and household items, to local charities, so that others can re-use your stuff.

Recycle. A third option is recycling, and buying things that are made from recycled materials. Materials such as paper, plastic, aluminum and glass, for example, can be recycled into new products, which reduces the need to extract new raw materials, as well as the amount of energy needed to create brand new products. For example making an aluminum beer can from recycled material uses 95% less energy than making one from virgin materials. Decreased energy use translates into fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Surprisingly, however, a lot of recyclable materials still find their way into the waste stream. Consider paper: paper can be recycled almost everywhere, yet paper accounts for more than 40 percent of what's dumped in our landfills. Newspapers alone can take up as much as 13 percent of the space in US landfills.

Why is that?

Is it because people don't know what can be recycled, or because for whatever reason they just don't choose to recycle?

What can be done to encourage more people to watch their waste, and reduce their climate impact?

In this activity you will search for the answers to these questions by watching your classroom's waste, so to speak, and exploring:

1. How much recyclable materials do you generate? What are the greenhouse gas emissions associated with those habits?

Collect all of the drinks containers you and your family (or roommates) use over three days. Make sure to collect all the cans a bottle you use at home, work, school, and while out and about. If you would normally throw it in the trash then take it home with you and add it to your collection.

After the three day period count up how many container you have generated.

Number of aluminum cans =
Number of glass bottles =
Number of plastic bottles =

Recycling one aluminum can saves 2kWh of electricity. How much energy would your family or household save per week if you recycled your cans? (You collected for 3 days so you must multiply your number of cans collected by 2.3 to get approximate weekly values. Once you find the cans you use per week then find how much energy you would save by recycling all of those cans.)

Show your calculations.

• How much energy do you save per year by recycling the cans you listed above?

• Cans are much greener than bottles if we are only recycling, so if all of your drinks had come in cans (not glass or plastic bottles) you should save even more energy. How much more energy would you save if all your drinks came only in cans and you recycled all of these cans each week? Start by working out thetotalnumber of drinks containers you would throw away in a week and then find the energy saved if you recycled all of those containers.

• How much energy would you save per year by recycling all of the drinks you used in that year?

• The population of Baldwin county is approximately 47,000. Assuming that every one disposes of the total number of drinks containers used by your household how much energy would be saved by Georgians recycling all of the cans they use per year?

• Think of three incentives that might encourage recycling. For example, in some cities, businesses or households can be fined for not recycling. Would this make everyone more conscientious? What else should we do?

• Why is reuse more energy efficient than recycling?

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