Saturday, January 24, 2009


i wrote a recycling paper for my english class and i really like it. so if anyone is interested, im posting it. if you aren't interested i will just secretly think poorly of you. ok, just kidding..

(oh, and this is my first draft, so if it stinks just ignore that..)

Does throwing away one soda can make a difference?

About half the volume of America’s municipal solid-waste stream is composed of packaging materials. This is equal to 300 pounds per person, per year. “It is interesting to note that we talk about streams of waste, as if they were naturally occurring features on the landscape, and yet there is nothing resembling such degradation in a healthy ecosystem. Perhaps mountains would be the more appropriate analogy” (Imhoff 24). With mountains of waste accumulating across the globe, less than 2% of the annual waste system is ultimately recycled. The rest of the waste? This is transformed into nonproductive solids and gases, stuffed in landfills or incinerated. Most of these products are harmful to the environment, as well as human health. Yet people do not seem to realize this phenomenon, or even care.

As a Wildlife and Wildlands Conservation major, I am very passionate about the environment. One of my biggest passions and largest concerns is recycling. If you have read editorials in the Daily Universe in the past or the BYU political review, you may have seen me write about this topic before. I was constantly complaining how BYU did not recycle plastic bottles, even though most beverages on campus are sold in plastic bottles. Finally, this past summer BYU Recycling ran a trial of recycling plastic bottles in the Wilkinson Center and other select buildings on campus. It was a success, and in my mind a major achievement. Now that we have basic recycling resources on campus, it is up to us to expand it to our own housing situations.

In the fascinating book “Paper or Plastic,” by Daniel Imhoff, a phrase is addressed that every American has heard since youth. “’Paper or plastic?’ This seemingly innocuous question assumed almost existential dimensions during the early 1990s, as it became a daily reminder to most of us that our industrial consumer society (in a world approaching six billion people) was running a collision course with the planet’s ecological life-support systems. The query was innocent enough, attempting to narrow a dilemma of immense complexity into a simple choice between materials. Do we clearcut forests, grind them to chips, and pulp and bleach them with chlorine-based compounds (generating carcinogenic byproducts) to make boxes, bags, and to-go cups primarily for one-time use? Or do we make a pact with demon hydrocarbon, refining ancient sunlight into lightweight, easily compactable bottles, wraps, and foams?” (Imhoff 8). Each year in the United States, over 75 million tons of potential resources are buried in the form of discarded packaging. The danger of landfills includes leaching of chemicals into soil and groundwater, and gases into the air.

The world seems to be filled with “less bad” solutions, such as using a paper plate that will be thrown out, or a ceramic plate that will be washed in the dishwasher. With the case of ‘paper or plastic?’ what are we supposed to do? Our answer should probably be “neither.” We need to eliminate, reduce, refill, and recycle as much as possible. This may be less affordable, convenient, or appealingly packaged at times, but will reduce our waste and limit our overall negative environmental impacts.

Recycling may sound nice in theory, but people often question if it really does have any impact. The answer is a concrete yes. Recycling saves both energy and natural resources. For example, to make aluminum cans, the process starts with 1 ton of mined bauxite ore. This is the amount required to produce a half ton of aluminum oxide. From the half ton of aluminum oxide, a quarter ton of aluminum metal is produced. So much energy is consumed in the process of smelting aluminum that it has earned the nickname ‘congealed energy.’ In contrast, when an aluminum can is recycled, 95% of the energy is saved in creating a new can. This means that 20 cans can be made of recycled material with the same energy required to make 1 can out of new material.

In terms of paper, producing one ton of paper consumes over 98 tons of resources. We are using paper faster than trees can be grown. It is estimated that loggers cut down 2 million trees every day in the US, yet Americans throw away about 42 million newspapers every day. This issue has been an ongoing one, even in the early days of Utah. Brigham Young had men travel by wagon from town to town collecting cotton rags. The cotton fibers from these rags were then used to make paper. It is interesting that even in the early history of the church, conserving natural resources was important (Recycling Coalition of Utah).

There are several scriptural references that depict us as stewards of the Earth. In Genesis, the Lord constructed Adam to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28). In Doctrine and Covenants 136:27, it reads: “Thou shalt be diligent in preserving what thou hast, that thou mayest be a wise steward; for it is the free gift of the Lord thy God, and thou art his steward.” One of our important roles in this life is to be stewards of the Earth. All resources that we need were given to us through Heavenly Father’s creation, and it is our responsibility to conserve those resources. As a steward, we will be held accountable for how we treated the Earth and the natural resources given to us by our Savior.

So how can we do our part here in Provo, Utah? We can start by recycling and being more conscious of the impacts our personal actions have on the environment. There are recycling bins on campus and in some student housing. Since curb-side recycling is not a mandatory program here in Provo, it is our responsibility to obtain it. After I moved into a new apartment this past fall, I constantly asked my landlord to obtain a recycling bin for our four-plex. He obliged, and as the tenant who requested it, it’s my duty to pull it to the roadside every week for collecting. Most landlords should be willing to make some sort of compromise like this, you just need to ask!

Provo City has contracted with Waste Management to provide optional curbside recycling. It costs $5 a month per blue bin. To obtain further information, look up and look under Services; Garbage Collection, or call #801-852-6000. This same website can be a reference tool to find locations to drop off other recyclables that the program does not currently accept. If you do not want to pay the $5 per month, there is a drop-off recycling bin located at the compost station at 1625 South Industrial Parkway. There is no charge to make recycling drop-offs, and hours are typically 8-5 Monday through Saturday.

I urge everyone to become more involved in recycling. Your actions and your example in this matter can only cause good for the environment and our future. Take advantage of the recycling programs that are available to you, and press for more. The next time you go to throw away a soda can, think twice about how much energy it cost to make that can before it goes in the trash.

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