Recycling: Costs and Benefits

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It is true that we live in a throw-away society. So, protecting the environment is essential for the quality of life of current and future generations. The challenge is to combine this with continuing economic growth in a way which is sustainable over the long term. Interest in determining costs and benefits is increasing in the environmental field. The possibilities for performing cost-benefit analyses in the waste area depend, however, on what is known about the actual emissions or discharges associated with waste disposal methods and their effects on the environment and health. On the other hand, the benefits and disadvantages of recycling are more complex. Development of a recycling program can be expensive, and recycling generates pollution. Thus, several questions arise: Is recycling really well for the environment? How does it affect the economy? Does it save or cost money? Political decisions are rarely implemented on the basis of original investigations of the costs and benefits of various measures. Environment policy is based on the belief that high environmental standards stimulate innovation and business opportunities. Economic, social and environment policies are closely integrated. Each ton of solid waste diverted from disposal, whether reused, recycled or composted, is one less ton of solid waste requiring disposal. The value of reusing, recycling and composting solid waste is clear when you consider the amount of disposal space required to accept that material. By implementing other waste- management strategies (as well as resource-management strategies), we reduce our dependence on incinerators and landfills. And when using recycled materials in place of trees, metal ores and minerals, there is less pressure to expand forestry and mining production. Recycling is more than a waste-management strategy; it is also an important strategy for reducing the environmental effects of industrial production. Supplying industry with recycled materials, instead of "virgin" resources extracted from forests and mines, is preferable because it saves energy, reduces dangerous air and water pollutants, such as greenhouse-gas emissions, and because it conserves scarce natural resources. Saving energy is an important environmental benefit of recycling, because using energy usually requires fossil-fuel consumption and involves air-and-water pollutant emissions. The energy required to manufacture paper, plastics, glass and metal from recycled materials is generally less than the energy required to produce them from virgin materials. Additionally, providing recycled materials to industry (including collection, processing and transportation) typically uses less energy than supplying virgin materials to industry (including extraction, refinement, transportation and processing). A great amount of energy used in industrial processes and in transportation involves burning fossil fuels. Recycling helps stem global climate-change dangers by reducing the amount of energy used by industry, thus reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Recycling can significantly reduce the amount of pollution entering the air and water. There is more benefit because less fossil fuel is used and because recycling keeps materials out of landfills, where they can introduce contaminants into groundwater systems. Recycling also keeps materials out of incinerators, which can pollute the air and create ash residue. Twenty-seven different types of air and water pollutants are reduced when companies recycle instead of use virgin resources in manufacturing and disposing of the waste products. The table below shows which damage costs we have to avoid and starting to gain benefits from recycling. Costs and benefits of waste recycling.

A cost-benefit analysis of recycling requires significantly more information than information about the direct emissions and residues associated with waste recycling . Many of the benefits gained from waste recycling consist in...
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