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Recycling: The Last of the Three Rs

Recycling involves collecting goods that have reached the end of their lives and processing them or their parts into components to construct new goods. Recycling is the third option in the three Rs of environmentalism — reduce (consumption), reuse (and/or repurpose), and recycle.

Because recycling isn’t as green as reducing or reusing (which don’t emit greenhouse gases), try to reduce and reuse first and foremost. Glass can be recycled into bottles, for example, but it has to go through a manufacturing process to get there, and that process uses energy. In an ideal world, the energy would be generated using renewable sources such as wind, hydro, and solar power so that the recycling process is completely green. But in the real world, that’s not usually how it works.

Recycling an item is far better than throwing it in the trash. And as states and cities continue to develop and encourage waste-reduction strategies, recycling will become an even more important part of daily life.

Recycling doesn’t just help reduce the amount of trash that heads to landfills and incinerators; it also reduces the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. Although the recycling process consumes energy and therefore emits some greenhouse gases, those gases are still less than what would be emitted by a combination of machinery at landfills and incinerators and by the manufacturing processes used to create new goods that would be needed if the recycled goods weren’t created. According to the EPA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2005, recycling prevented the release of 79 million tons of carbon into the air — about the same as would be produced annually by 39 million cars.

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