For many people across the world, waste management might not seem like a top priority. But with landfills, toxins, greenhouse gasses, and millions of tons of waste produced each year, pollution poses a concerning threat to the future of our planet. If we want to create a greener, more sustainable world for future generations, recycling is a component we need to take seriously. From the personal to the corporate level, it’s our responsibility to make the right recycling decisions for the environment.
To better understand current recycling practices and pitfalls, let’s explore how people around the world are managing the global waste crisis.
To understand recycling, we first have to break down the problem it aims to alleviate. Every year, humans produce more than 2 billion tons of waste. Nearly 300 million tons of the waste is plastic, half of which is single-use. Much of this waste ends up in landfills and oceans.
While sending waste to landfills might keep it out of sight, it can create severe environmental issues, as well as health concerns in local communities. As trash decomposes, it creates what’s known as leachate, a toxic liquid that pollutes the air and water. Landfills are also one of the driving factors behind methane gas, a powerful greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere.
Many countries have created laws mandating recycling on the corporate and personal level. However, some of the world’s top companies — Coca Cola, Nestle, and PepsiCo — are still the world’s biggest producers of plastic waste. And while many people are investing in personal recycling efforts, it isn’t always easy to actually recycle your waste. Improper recycling practices can mean that the items you put in your recycling bin might end up getting thrown into the landfill anyway.
7 Important Recycling Statistics From Around the World
It’s clear that our world is facing a global waste crisis. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t countries embracing the reduce, reuse, and recycle lifestyle.
Here are seven recycling statistics from around the world — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
1. 91% of Plastic Isn’t Recycled
According to a recent global analysis of plastic waste, out of 8.3 billion tons of plastic produced, 6.3 billion tons have become plastic waste. The vast majority of this waste is accumulating in landfills or has ended up in the environment as litter.
One of the reasons why so much plastic ends up discarded is the issue of contamination. Single-stream recycling has made recycling easier for the average person, but it results in a significant amount of plastic waste being contaminated by food products or other chemicals.
The other reason lies in the amount and type of plastic produced. Companies that process waste often end up with far too much plastic on their hands, and there currently aren’t many viable uses for the material. There is also little incentive now that “virgin” or newly produced plastic is cheaper than recycled plastic.
2. There are 46,000 Pieces of Plastic for Every Square Mile of the Ocean
The United Nations estimated that there are over 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile of the ocean, which stretches over 139 million square miles. This floating plastic debris may not be visible to the naked eye, but this pollution can have a devastating impact on plants, birds, fish, and other marine life.
3. One Person Can Produce Four Pounds of Trash Each Day
With waste production on such a massive scale, many people think their individual choices won’t make a difference. But the average American creates around four pounds of trash per day, much of it recyclable. This adds up to nearly 1,500 pounds of trash each year.
4. Germany Has the Highest Recycling Rate
According to the World Economic Forum, Germany leads the world in recycling. Their recycling rate is the highest in the world, recycling around 56% of their waste.
Much of this success comes from their government introducing strict rules about waste separation. They also created an incentive for recycling by offering reimbursement for returning the item to a lender.
To support these high recycling rates, Germany also focuses on producing sustainable, biodegradable, and recyclable products.
5. Recycling One Aluminum Can Saves Enough Energy to Power a TV for Three Hours
While it only takes seconds to drop an aluminum can in the recycling bin, it can save a significant amount of energy. It’s estimated that recycling a single aluminum can could save enough energy to power a television for up to three hours.
6. Glass and Aluminum Can Be Infinitely Recycled
Many waste products, like cardboard, paper, and plastic, can only be recycled so many times. Plastic can often only be recycled once or twice — if at all — while cardboard and paper can be recycled five to seven times.
However, glass and aluminum are both infinitely recyclable. They can be repurposed again and again, without any decline in quality or purity.
7. It Costs Less to Recycle Waste Than to Throw It Away
Even though recycling rates for most forms of waste are low, it can actually cost less to recycle than to send waste to landfills. It costs an average of $30 per ton to recycle trash. In contrast, it takes $50 to send it to the landfill and up to $75 to incinerate it.
In terms of resources, you can make 20 new cans from recycled aluminum using the same amount of energy it would take to produce one brand new can.
Finding a Solution to the Recycling Crisis: What Can We Do?
For people and companies looking to go green, there may be new possibilities for recycling on the horizon. The global market for high-quality recycled materials is on the rise, with demand for paper and cardboard expected to grow by 1.2% each year. The plastic recycling industry is expanding rapidly, expected to grow by $14.74 billion by 2024. Many companies are finding new ways to repurpose plastic into packaging, building materials, fabric, electronics, and more.
What does the future of recycling look like? At Miniwiz, we’re always looking to make recycling smarter as we strive for a circular economy. By transforming household and industrial waste into sustainable building materials, textiles, designer furniture, and more, our process is dedicated to constant innovation and improvement. To learn more about what we do, take a look at some of our industry solutions.