You’ve probably heard about the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle, listed in the order we should try to follow them. While recycling is last on the list, it’s still a better option than tossing our waste into the trash, as it avoids our waste ending up in our landfills.
There are three big problems with landfilling:
- Landfills are not designed to break down and decompose materials. Waste is tightly compacted and then buried in the earth. The lack of oxygen and light means that the waste breaks down at a much slower rate (and is why compostable or biodegradable trash won’t biodegrade in a landfill). It’s still unknown how long it takes, but a plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose, whereas other items of plastics are predicted to break down over 1000 years. When these materials break down at a slower rate, they release methane, which is more than 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This methane can be continually produced for however long it takes for the materials to decompose, which can be hundreds of years, and is a primary contributor to global warming.
- Every time we create a new product or material, we need to extract natural resources from the earth. Energy is used not only to extract natural resources but also to turn them into a new product. When we recycle something, we’re reusing that material, as opposed to extracting new materials from the earth. When something goes directly to landfill, or is incinerated, we waste all of the natural resources, energy, and material that has been used to create it.
- As landfills break down, they produce “leachate,” which is a liquid that is then pumped out of landfills and treated as hazardous waste. However, many landfills leak leachate, which seeps into the ground and can flow into our waterways. Studies have found the presence of microplastics in leachate, which ultimately end up in the food and water consumed by all living beings.
Plus, did you know that recycling also saves energy? According to Stanford University, manufacturing the second time is much cleaner and less energy-intensive than the first. For example, manufacturing with recycled aluminum cans uses 95 percent less energy than creating the same amount of new aluminum.
In 2020, TerraCycle prevented more than 3,600 tons of garbage, across 21 countries, from ending up landfilled or incinerated. Our certified and audited processes take that trash and convert it into a multitude of new uses, such as playgrounds, industrial pallets, composite decking, shopping baskets, even the podiums at the Tokyo Olympics!
So next time you’ve already tried to refuse, reduce, reuse, and repurpose, don’t hesitate to recycle. Check if an item is accepted by your municipal recycling service, and if it’s not, chances are you can recycle it through TerraCycle.