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Frequently Asked Questions: Benefits of Recycling

Q: Why is it important to recycle?

A: With the involvement and enthusiasm of people like you, recycling is back and so are thousands upon thousands of recycled products made from materials that would otherwise be piling up in our nation's landfills.  It makes a huge difference to our environment, our quality of life, and our country's future.

Why It's Important

As stewards of the environment, we are responsible for preserving and protecting our resources for ourselves and for future generations.

Getting Back To Basics

Recycling is really just common sense, and until the "modern era," it was a common household activity. Before the 1920s, 70% of U.S. cities ran programs to recycle certain materials. During World War II, industry recycled and reused about 25% of the waste stream. Because of concern for the environment, recycling is again on the upswing. The nation's composting and recycling rate rose from 7.7% of the waste stream in 1960 to 17% in 1990. It's currently up to around 30%. California is at about 48%.

The Garbage Crisis

The world has changed a lot in the past century. From individually packaged food servings to disposable diapers, more garbage is generated now than ever before. The average American discards seven and a half pounds of garbage every day. This garbage, the solid waste stream, goes mostly to landfills, where it's compacted and buried. As the waste stream continues to grow, so will the pressures on our landfills, our resources, and our environment.

Recycling - An Important Part Of The Solution

The more we recycle, the less garbage winds up in our landfills and incineration plants. By reusing aluminum, paper, glass, plastics, and other materials, we can save production and energy costs, and reduce the negative impacts that the extraction and processing of virgin materials has on the environment.

It all comes back to you. Recycling gets down to one person taking action. New products can be made from your recyclable waste material. Recycling is good for our environment, our communities, and our economy. Visit America Recycles website at to learn more about this subject.

Q: What is recycling's greatest economic benefit?

A: In a broad sense, recycling is part of an ethic of resource efficiency – of using products to their fullest potential. When a recycled material, rather than a raw material, is used to make a new product, natural resources and energy are conserved. This is because recycled materials have already been refined and processed once; 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 aluminum with bauxite.

Investments in recycling collection support a strong and diverse recycling manufacturing industry, which brings jobs and high wages to states and localities. The collection of recyclable materials is the first - the most critical link in a chain of economic activity. Investment in local collection infrastructure pays great dividends in supporting significant downstream recycling economic activity. Importantly, many of these recycling manufacturers rely on a steady and consistent supply of recyclable materials generated from recycling programs.

California’s investments in recycling collection infrastructure have brought substantial returns in the form of reciprocal investments and job creation by recycling manufacturers. The National Recycling Coalition reports that the recycling industry in California is both diverse and significant. The state hosts 4,342 recycling and reuse establishments that employ over 84,000 people, generate an annual payroll of $2.25 billion, and gross $14.2 billion in annual revenues. In California, for every job in recycling collection there are eight jobs created through manufacturing the recovered material into a new product.

Q: What are the environmental benefits of recycling? 

A: It conserves energy, reduces air and water pollution, reduces greenhouse gases, and conserves natural resources.

Stanford recycled, composted, and otherwise source reduced 62% of its waste and reduced landfill by 35%.  The results are cleaner air and water, less pollution, more forested land and open space, and reduced greenhouse gases.

Everyone knows recycling means less trash going to our landfills but the greatest environmental benefit of recycling is the conservation of energy and natural resources and the prevention of pollution that is generated when a raw material is used to make a new product.

Recycling at Stanford Conserves Energy

The paper, glass, metals, plastic, and organic material Stanford recycled in 2016 saved a total of about 70,481 million BTUs of energy; enough energy to power nearly 613 homes for one year. Or said another way, conserved 12,131 barrels of oil or 567,3014 gallons of gasoline.

Producing products using recovered rather than raw materials uses significantly less energy which results in less burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas.

Recycling at Stanford Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Stanford’s recycling efforts last year reduced greenhouse gas emissions by about 2447 metric tons of carbon equivalent (MTCE), equivalent to taking 1889 cars off the road per year, conserving 1,009,626 gallons of gasoline or 48 railway cars of coal.

By reducing air and water pollution and saving energy, recycling offers an important environmental benefit: it reduces emissions of greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and chlorofluorocarbons, that contribute to global climate change.

Recycling at Stanford Conserves Natural Resources

By recycling over 2303 tons of paper last year, Stanford saved 32,115 trees. Stanford reduced the need for 414 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone by recycling over 288 tons of ferrous scrap metal.

By using recycled materials instead of trees, metal ores, minerals, oil and other raw materials harvested from the earth, recycling-based manufacturing conserves the world's scarce natural resources. This conservation reduces pressure to expand forests cutting and mining operations.

Waste Generation Increases

In 2014, Americans generated about 258 million tons of trash and recycled 66.4 million tons and composted 23 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.6 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.44 pounds per person per day.

The state of the economy has a strong impact on consumption and waste generation. Waste generation increases during times of strong economic growth and decreases during times of economic decline. To learn more about waste generation in the US see the US EPA report Advancing Sustainable Materials Management: Facts and Figures.

This data is taken from Stanford University's Recycling and Solid Waste Report 2016 and fed into the US EPA WAste Reduction Model (WARM).

Q: Can recycling save energy? 

A: Yes it can! Here’s some fun facts from CalRecycle to show you how!

If you look at the big picture of what it takes to create a product from scratch -- to get the raw materials, transport them, process them and manufacture them -- making goods with recycled material like paper, plastic, glass, and metal is a major energy saver.

Seattle economist Jeffrey Morris estimated that manufacturing one ton of office and computer paper with recycled paper stock can save nearly 3,000 kilowatt hours over the same ton of paper made with virgin wood products.

A ton of soda cans made with recycled aluminum saves an amazing 21,000 kilowatt hours by reducing the virgin bauxite (bozite) ore that would have to be mined, shipped, and refined. That’s a 95% energy savings.

A ton of PET plastic containers made with recycled plastic conserves about 7,200 kilowatt hours.

The San Diego County Office of Education has figured out that recycling one glass bottle saves enough energy to light a 100 watt light bulb for four hours.

The Steel Recycling Institute has found that steel recycling saves enough energy to electrically power the equilvalent of 18 million homes for a year.

With all the energy that is saved when we recycle bottles and cans and paper, we should all recycle and buy recycled more often!

Q: How much energy is saved by recycling? 

A: The amount of lost energy from throwing away recyclable commodities such as aluminum cans and newspapers is equivalent to the annual output of 15 power plants. The energy savings applies to all recycling sectors:

Aluminum. Recycling of aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy required to make the same amount of aluminum from its virgin source. One ton of recycled aluminum saves 14,000 kilowatt hours (Kwh) of energy, 40 barrels of oil, 130. 152.32 million BTU's of energy, and 10 cubic yards of landfill space.

Newsprint. One ton of recycled newsprint saves 601 Kwh of energy, 1.7 barrels of oil (71 gallons), 10.2 million BTU's of energy, 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released, 7,000 gallons of water, and 4.6 cubic yards of landfill space.

Office Paper. One ton of recycled office paper saves 4,100 Kwh of energy, 9 barrels of oil, 54 million BTU's of energy, 60 pounds of air pollutants from being released, 7,000 gallons of water, and 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.

Plastic. One ton of recycled plastic saves 5,774 Kwh of energy, 16.3 barrels of oil, 98 million BTU's of energy, and 30 cubic yards of landfill space.

Steel. One ton of recycled steel saves 642 Kwh of energy, 1.8 barrels of oil, 10.9 million BTU's of energy, and 4 cubic yards of landfill space.

Glass. One ton of recycled glass saves 42 Kwh of energy, 0.12 barrels of oil (5 gallons), 714,000 BTU's of energy, 7.5 pounds of air pollutants from being released, and 2 cubic yards of landfill space. Over 30% of the raw material used in glass production now comes from recycled glass.

As you can see, by recycling you are saving energy in addition to conserving resources and reducing pollution! 

Source: EPA WARM

Q: How much energy is in a can? 

A: Last year alone, recycling bottles and cans saved enough energy to power up to 522,000 homes in California.

Energy drinks are all the rage, and in recent years beverages that invigorate consumers have flooded the marketplace. What many people might not realize is that the same bottles and cans that provide them with energy beverages could actually save the kind of energy needed to power their homes and televisions.

How much energy? In 2004, the 12 billion bottles and cans recycled by Californians saved the equivalent of enough energy to power up to 522,000 homes, according to CalRecycle calculations. It takes 95 percent less energy to make an aluminum can from recycled aluminum than from processing bauxite ore, and glass furnaces can run at lower temperatures when using recycled glass, thereby saving energy and extending equipment life.

To help Californians find the recycling bin instead of the trash can, CalRecycle has some simple tips for bottle and can recycling:

• Own a business or work in an office building, gym, school, restaurant or other location where people dispose of CRV containers? Order a free “Recycling Starter Kit” at

• On the go? Hold onto your empty beverage containers until you find a recycling bin. Keep an extra bag or box in your car so that you can collect your beverage containers without having them roll around in your car.

• Throwing a party? Set up a separate bag or box for recyclable beverage containers only. Later, redeem them for cash or put them in your curbside recycling bin.

For more information about this press release and other CRV beverage container recycling related programs, please contact the CalRecycle.

Q: What is the connection between source reduction and reduction in green house gas emissions?

A: Reducing the amount of paper you use is not just being cost-effective, it is taking concrete steps to reduce climate change. More so than any other waste management option - including composting, recycling, and landfilling - source reduction helps turn back the clock on climate change.

What is Source Reduction?

Source reduction, often called waste prevention, is any changes in the design, manufacture, purchase, or use of materials or products (including packaging) to reduce their amount or toxicity before they become municipal solid waste. Source reduction also includes the reuse of products or materials.

Reducing Green House Gas (GHG) Emissions

When a material is source reduced (i.e. less of the material is made), the GHG emissions associated with making the material and managing the post consumer waste are avoided. In addition, when paper products are source reduced, trees that would otherwise be harvested are left standing and continue to grow, removing additional carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. GHG emissions reductions resulting from source reduction of a variety of common materials are listed in the table.

What Can You Do?

What can the average citizen do to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Besides reducing emissions from fossil fuels through energy and transportation efficiency, we also can help minimize climate impacts through source reduction, reuse, and recycling. This saves energy which translates directly to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. We should all do our share to protect the earth and its atmosphere.

For more information on source reduction visit: