Hey Mr. Green,
My friend refuses to recycle because he says the amount of energy it requires is enormous and the effect on the planet is negligible. Is he right? If not, how can I convince him to start recycling?--George in Santa Monica, California
Tell your friend that recycling does save energy, and lots of it--the equivalent of 10.2 billion gallons of gasoline per year from recycled U.S. municipal waste alone. And we still recycle only about a third of our staggering annual total of 250 million tons of waste, according to the EPA.
The savings do depend on the material. Recycling aluminum cans, for example, saves a high percentage of energy per pound, yet we Americans recycle only about half of our cans.
If your pal claims that recycling has its roots in tree hugger hysteria, point out that U.S. aluminum companies import more than 7 billion used cans per year--90,000 tons--to reduce their energy expenses and other costs.
Even if recycling didn't spare a crumb of coal or a drop of oil, its effect on the planet is far from "negligible." It averts some of the collateral damage from our material excess. A ton of recycled steel prevents 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal, and 120 pounds of limestone from getting gouged out of the earth, says the Steel Recycling Institute.
Recycling also slows the spread of dumps, keeps plastic out of the food chain, and prevents hundreds of millions of gallons of used motor oil from fouling our streams and lakes.