|Posted by [email protected] on October 18, 2011 at 1:35 AM|
Most Americans have access to a plastic recycling program, either through curbside pickup or through a local recycling center, yet only about 27 percent of PETE #1, a common household plastic, was recycled in 2008. Recycling not only reduces the amount of waste in landfills, it also reduces the energy used and carbon emissions produced by making brand-new products.
In 2008, Americans generated 250 million tons of trash. About 12 percent of this, or 30 million tons, was plastic. Consumer electronics, primarily composed of plastics, made up an additional two percent. According to Earth 911, every ton of plastic recycled saves nearly seven and a half cubic yards of landfill space.
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NEW PLASTIC PRODUCTION
Most plastic is made of polypropylene or polyethylene. Propane and ethane, which are petroleum products, are the sources for these two plastics. Petroleum is a non-renewable resource; the Colorado River Commission of Nevada estimates the world petroleum supply will be depleted less than 100 years from now.
In order to produce new plastic, a manufacturer purchases refined petroleum and heats it at extreme temperatures. The heated ethane and propane undergo a chemical process creating powdery flakes, which are mixed with additives and melted into pellets. Plastic manufacturers purchase the pellets and melt them, molding them into the desired product.
PLASTIC'S CARBON FOOTPRINT
Plastic production requires petroleum as a raw material, as an energy source in the heating and processing stages and as fuel for transporting the product in its various stages. The Time for Change environmental organization estimates every kilogram of polyethylene produced requires the equivalent of two kilograms of petroleum, resulting in about six kilograms of carbon dioxide emissions.
RECYCLED PLASTIC PRODUCTS
There are several types of plastics. Polyethylene terephthalate, or PETE #1, is the most commonly recycled plastic. It is turned into products like egg cartons and surf boards. High-density polyethylene, or HDPE #2, is often recycled into plastic bags. Other types of recycled plastics are used in products like vinyl siding, plastic lumber and insulation.
RECYCLING CONSUMER ELECTRONICS
Common consumer electronics include computers, televisions and cell phones. Thanks to rapid advances in technology, these products become obsolete quickly and often end up in the landfill. Instead, consumers can donate salvageable electronics to charities that refurbish the products and provide them to schools and families at low or no cost. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates "recycling one million desktop computers prevents the release of greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual emissions of 16,000 passenger cars."