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The 5 Most Important Items Everyone Should Recycle

The Three R's

For 13 years, America Recycles Day on November 15 has been the only nationally recognized day dedicated to the promotion of recycling programs. Participants take a pledge promising to learn about their curbside recycling program, to find an e-waste drop-off for their electronic items, and to spread the word about recycling at their school and work.

But, of the three R's, is recycling the most important?

Lloyd Alter of Planet Green argues that the issue is much bigger than simply managing waste:

It is the energy made producing things that don't last, replacing bottles that get recycled instead of refilled, picking up shopping bags that get tossed instead of reused.

And indeed, if the focus was on "Reduce" and "Reuse," this would lessen all waste sent to landfills and recycling centers. Sara Novak claims that recycling is used as an excuse to avoid addressing one's initial consumption.

5 Items Everyone Should Recycle

For those who are not living a zero waste life, here is a cheat-sheet of the most important items to recycle.

  • Aluminum cans: According to Annie Bond, a computer or television can run for 3 hours on the energy saved recycling one aluminum can. It takes 95% less energy to make a new can from recycled aluminum, and aluminum can be recycled over and over again. In fact, The National Recycling Coalition says aluminum cans are the single most important item to recycle.
  • PET plastic bottles: These are bottles labeled 1 as their resin identification code. Plastic never really biodegrades, and making new plastic out of recycled sources uses two-thirds less energy than making it from scratch.
  • Newspaper: The EPA says approximately 33 percent of the municipal solid waste stream is made up of paper and paperboard products. With the average office worker using 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year, it's amazing that percentage is not higher.
  • Corrugated Cardboard: The lower grade paper products, such as corrugated cardboard, are used to make new versions of the same product. Every ton of paper recycled saves more than 3.3 cubic yards of landfill space.
  • Steel Cans: The steel industry in North America has been recycling scrap steel for 150 years. The more recycled steel they receive the better, ensuring that all steel products contain anywhere from 25 percent up to 100 percent recycled content. And this is a better option than mining for virgin ore to manufacture new steel.

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