Canadian consumers, retailers and producers have a lot of work to do. We are amongst the biggest consumers and wasters in the world and we all have to change. That includes how we shop and consume, how we package, produce and market. The future is recycling and we have a long way to go.
Here are some basic facts about what we are doing now and what we can do better when it comes to recycling:
1. Produce less garbage
In our lifetimes, an average Canadian will throw away 600 times his or her adult weight in garbage. A 68-kg adult will leave a legacy of 40,825 kg of trash. By the age of 6 months, the average Canadian has consumed the same amount of resources as the average person in the developing world consumes in a lifetime. We spend over $1.5 billion dollars a year to get rid of the garbage we produce. Most of this ends up in landfill, about 80 percent. That leaves only 20 percent that is disposed through recycling, resource recovery and incineration. That has to change.
There are over 10, 000 landfills in Canada and then account for almost 40 percent of Canada’s total methane emissions. About a third of our waste is paper and paperboard. Another third is yard and kitchen waste. The rest is divided among glass, metals, plastics, textiles, wood and other materials. If we recycled more, we could make a real difference. Just by recycling one ton of glass we could save about nine gallons of fuel oil and one pound of newspaper could be recycled to make 6 cereal boxes, 6 egg cartons or 2,000 sheets of writing paper. We can do better.
2. Use less paper
As notes above about 40 percent of all material we throw in our landfill each year is wood or wood products. Yet 1 tonne of recycled paper saves 3700 pounds of lumber and 24,000 gallons of water and it uses only about 60 percent of the energy needed to make a tonne of virgin paper. Manufacturing recycled paper produces 74 per cent less air pollution and 35 percent less water pollution than making paper from virgin wood pulp. Recycling one tonne of newspaper saves 19 trees, 3 cubic metres of landfill space, 4,000 kilowatt hours of energy, 29,000 litres of water and 30 kgs of air pollution.
3. Conserve more energy
There are many products that save energy by recycling them because they use a lot of energy to make. If we recycle aluminum we could save 95 percent, recycling glass would give energy savings of 33 percent, and recycling paper would allow us to see energy savings of 64 percent. The energy savings per tonne of finished plastic bottles is enough to fill a 20-gallon gas tank every week for ten years. Recycling one glass jar saves enough energy to light a bulb for four hours. Recycling one tonne of paper could save 17 trees, 6953 gallons of water, 463 gallons of oil, and reduce 583 pounds of air pollution.
4. Recycle glass, plastics and aluminum
If we used recycled materials to make glass we could reduce air pollution by 20 percent and water pollution by half. Recycled plastics and aluminum uses only 5 to 10 percent as much energy as making new plastic or smelting aluminum. Recycling a tonne of PET containers could save 7.4 cubic yards of landfill space.
5. Learn about organic waste
Canadians produce approximately 7 million tonnes of organic waste each year and two-thirds of that could be composted. 5 billion drink boxes are thrown away each year in North America. That’s part of the reason that while North America has only 8 percent of the world’s population, we consume one-third of the world’s resources and produce almost half of the world’s non-organic garbage.
One more statistic to think about. $1 out of every $10 spent on food goes into packaging. That’s an awful lot of waste. We have to do better. Recycling is the future.