Recycling vs. Our Throw Away Culture

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Recycling vs. Our Throw Away Culture

Although it may seem like recycling is something new, in reality, forms of recycling have been used for many years. In the early 1900’s, waste paper and rags were often used to make paper when wood pulp was scarce and too expensive (Black). The economic depression also made recycling an important way for people to survive, as they couldn’t afford to buy new things (Grabianowski). People then began recycling scrap metal, nylon, rubber and other materials as they were rationed to help support the war efforts during World War II (Grabianowski). According to the Earth Day Network, current recycling trends were signaled in 1970 by the introduction of the first “Earth Day”, an annual day of observance in the U.S. meant to bring heightened awareness of the Earth’s natural environmental issues (“History of Earth Day”). This is when recycling really hit the mainstream as an environmental movement and its public acceptance began. By 1997, the growth of public sector curbside recycling programs in the U.S. grew from 9 percent in 1989 to 28 percent in 1996 (Goldstein). This is when consumers embraced “green” living and began supporting the idea that recycling products could be beneficial to the environment. As curbside recycling sprang up in most every U.S. city, earth-friendly products filled the supermarkets, and words like “hybrid”, “organic”, and “eco-friendly” became commonplace. In order to understand the importance of recycling, one must first go back to the beginning. During a human lifetime, each person will produce waste materials of many kinds. While many of these materials are biodegradable or broken down by microorganisms into simpler substances and then used by nature, many are not. As science and technology soar, new materials are being developed and produced every day that nature cannot decompose, like plastics and synthetics. Many biodegradable substances, like food scraps and paper products, are also discarded more quickly than natural decomposition can accommodate (Hall, Garbage 6). The results are mounting piles of debris, also called solid waste or garbage, which must be dealt with in one of three ways: by burying it, burning it, or recycling it. The most popular disposal technique is to burying the garbage. Commonly referred to as a “garbage dumping”, manmade piles of debris began piling up. Congress, recognizing the problem, passed the Solid Waste Disposal Act, setting disposal plans into action and helping to regulate garbage dumping by creating public landfills or dumping areas (Hall, Garbage 12). Another disposal technique is to burn the garbage. Disposal of garbage by burning it goes back in time to the first civilizations. From prehistoric man to today’s American family, burning garbage has been a simple, effective way to get rid of waste (Hall, Garbage 25).

The last disposal technique is to recycle it. Simply enough, recycling means to use something again. There are two ways to do this. The first means to take an object and use it over and over again. Examples include toothbrushes, clothing, dishes, etc. The second means to take an object and reuse it for another purpose other than what it was originally created to do. Examples include using an old toothbrush to clean the tile in the shower, or making a birdhouse from a plastic milk jug (Hall, Recycling 4-5). Today, about 63 percent of all solid waste ends up in landfills (Hall, Garbage 24). There are many problems with this disposal technique. As populations grow, more garbage is created and there are less and less places to store it. Hazardous waste is also a problem. This includes waste that is flammable like paint, corrosive like cleaning solutions, and waste that can mix with other materials or seep through the ground into water supplies and cause harm to people and the environment. Burning the garbage has its own problems. Air pollution can harm people, animals and the...
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