Reduce, reuse, recycle. A common idiom lending itself to be heard and stated so much that you probably give it little actual thought and instead just let it go in one ear and out the other. I know for me, it dates back to elementary school where it first graced my memory.
Now there is nothing I have negative to say about the three R’s, as it outlines the exact concepts and hierarchy we need to strive for, both communally and individually. Giving greatest priority to reducing our overall waste creation in the first place then looking towards responsible management through reuse and recycling. However, the three R’s don’t allude to the benefits gained or for what cause we make an effort towards exactly. You could say we have the tools but what’s the target? We can all probably make ties to the environment but is that really the single avenue where we stand to gain? Let me address that.
Here we introduce the three E’s: energy, economy, and environment. This is the target we are making strides towards. Every time you bother to recycle, no matter how small and seemingly insignificant, contributions are made that benefit the three E’s. Here are some numbers to make sense of that.
Starting with the big picture, the profit alone from recycling is significant in our state. According to a 2013 review on recycling by the MPCA, over 2.5 million tons were collected in that year and provided over $690 million in profit. For scale, Carlton expenditures for 2018 was a mere $58 million while Duluth’s in the same year was nearly $295 million. Consider now that about 1.2 million tons of reclaimable materials were thrown away but could have easily been recycled to provide a profit of $285 million. Adding insult to injury, we paid over $200 million to throw it away into landfills, amounting to a $485 million net loss which is 70% of the $690 million we gained from what was actually collected. Said another way, we could have summed over $1 billion by simply bothering to recycle properly. Imagine what that could be used for and how that could bolster our public projects. Let me point out too that about 37,000 jobs were supported via the reclaimed material sector and provided nearly $2 billion in wages. Carlton County has a little over 35,000 people of which Sappi employs about 730 for reference.
Alright, now let’s get a quick glance at the efficiency here. It takes 90% less energy to make an aluminum can from recycled material compared to new material. Glass? Nearly 50% less energy. Paper? About 75% less energy. Mind that the energy sector is publicly subsidized for both conventional and renewable alike.
Final point, we can almost infinitely reuse metals and glass. It doesn’t lose its purity or manufacturability when re-smelted. But if you throw it out, we lose that material for good and pay with our wallets in turn.
Last mention, recycling is only possible with clean and accepted materials. Not everything is able to be reclaimed which means follow the rules of your hauler and don’t wish-cycle (ie. contaminate). Let’s boost our public fund by managing our waste appropriately.