In the contemporary climate of heightened concern over environmental issues, the learning curve around solutions is steep. There are many natural alternatives, to simply filling landfills with more stuff, although the average person may not be aware of the more unusual ones. Knowing atypical recycling facts can ensure that a person's green practices are comprehensive, pragmatic and cutting-edge.
Disposable Diapers: The EPA estimates 20 billion disposable diapers wind up in landfills each year, accounting for approximately 3.5 million tons of waste*. The problem goes far beyond simple tonnage, however. Disposable diapers simply do not degrade and, as the third highest consumer product entering landfills, this waste pollutes surface and groundwater. In fact, 30% of the non-biodegradable waste ending up in landfills, is disposable diapers. However, the plastic, fiber, and organic components can be treated and re-processed into synthetic roofing shingles, packaging, plastic wood and other second-generation plastic goods.
Plastic Bottles: Sustainable Flexibility and Warmth
The following alarming statistics about plastic bottles come from all-recycling-facts.com:
- Almost every hour, nearly 250,000 plastic bottles are dumped. It is not surprising that plastic bottles constitute close to 50% of recyclable waste in the dumps.
- The average time taken by plastic bottles to decompose in a landfill is close to 700 years.
- Used plastic dumped into the sea kills and destroys sea life at an estimated 1,000,000 sea creatures per year!
- The news about recycling plastic bottles is not all bad, however: Plastic bottle recycling by consumers increased 123 million pounds in 2010 (up 5%) to reach a record high of nearly 2.6 billion pounds for the year (2011).
- The synthetic insulating fabric polar fleece, made from recycled plastic bottles, is commonly found in outerwear, sportswear, nightwear, blankets and cloth diapers, among other things. This lightweight, waterproof and cheap fleece fabric is wildly popular because it is easy to care for, inflammable, and is even a vegan or anti-allergenic alternative to wool. It maintains its insulating ability when wet, melts rather than burns when exposed to flame and is relatively inexpensive to both manufacture and buy, all factors that make it an ideal green fabric choice.
Crayons: Coloring the foreseeable future, crayons made from paraffin wax will never decompose in a landfill, meaning they will essentially remain where discarded forever. Most ordinary people never stop to consider what it means to discard items like crayons and other wax products. Now there is a green solution to this vexing issue: Crazy Crayons and the Crayon Recycle Program present in schools across the country will take any used crayons and turn them in to new crayons. They can also turn the old paper wrappers from recycled crayons into firestarters, breathing new life into an oft-discarded product. As of March 2014, the Crazy Crayon Recycle program has collected over 93,000 pounds of unwanted crayons, keeping a significant amount of permanent waste out of the landfill.
Putting New Bite into Old Teeth: One last unusual recycled item is the denture. While dentures are molded to fit one person's mouth and are thus not reusable, a Japanese firm began a program spearheading denture-recycling efforts in 2007. Dentures contain precious metals that can be retrieved and sold. Isao Miyoshi, the head of a dental lab in Sakado, Japan, began recycling the gold, silver and palladium in donated dentures and contributing the money from the metal sales to UNICEF. In the first two months of operation, more than 1,000 dentures were dismantled and Miyoshi was able to donate 1,036,102 yen or more than $10,000 at today's rate of exchange.
It really is possible to recycle nearly everything known to man. In a world increasingly concerned with the critical issues of global warming and climate change, recycling knowledge is more of an obligation than a trend. Knowing what can be recycled, no matter how unusual, takes the socially conscious individual a long way toward creating a greener and more sustainable future.
*Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.