Wednesday, March 31, 2010

i ♥ recycling

this has been what i have been working on all weekend and this week so far. probably none of you care, but its something im very passionate about, so read it if you'd like. i want to thank my friend mellissa for helping me edit it. there are a few charts and pictures, which im not going to bother with. i need sleep. [and some of the formatting is goofy. whatevs.]

i didnt get home until 9:30 and wednesdays are my early nights (since i get up at 5:45am). so i need to go to bed. if you are interested in recycling at all, please read on.

love, jess

with that, here is my analytical report titled "Worth of Recycling in Provo, Utah."


Every year over 300 pounds of recyclable trash is thrown away per person. This is equal in weight to a new LG refrigerator/freezer. With mountains of waste accumulating across the globe, less than 2% of the annual waste system is ultimately recycled. The rest of the waste is transformed into nonproductive solids and gases, stuffed in landfills, or incinerated (“Wastes – Resource conservation”). Most of these waste products are harmful to the environment, as well as human health. We may point to car exhaust or aerosol as the cause of global warming, but really landfills are the number one human-generated source of methane, releasing 7 million tons of methane into the atmosphere each year (Imhoff, 2005). How can we stop this phenomenon when we as individuals may not feel that our actions have an important impact on the environment? Recycling is a program that we can all participate in, and that truly betters our Earth.

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 was running a collision course with the planet’s ecological life-support systems” (Imhoff, 2005, p. 8). By requesting either paper or plastic, valuable resources are destroyed for a one-time use solution. Each year in the United States, over 75 million tons of potential resources are buried in the form of discarded packaging (“Wastes – Resource conservation”). The danger of landfills includes leaching of chemicals into soil and groundwater, and releasing harmful 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.

In 2008 Utah County had a recycling rate of 8.89%. Within Utah County, the City of Provo had a reported recycling rate of 31.90% (Recycling Coalition of Utah). Newspaper and paper can be dropped off at all Provo elementary schools to be recycled and there is even a recycling drop-off station on South Industrial Parkway. These seem like easy ways to reduce our garbage and recycle, but it is only open during certain times of the year, and has odd hours. At the cost of $5 Provo City residents can also order a recycling bin which is picked up every other week (“Current recycling information”). These are all of the current recycling options in Provo, UT.

As citizens of Provo, UT we may be wondering how important recycling is. How can it affect our community? Is it economical? How can it better the earth? Is it something we should invest in? In this report these questions can be summed up into one all-encompassing question: Is recycling in Provo, UT worth it? Through my efforts and research, I will be able to discern if the outcome of recycling is worth the planning, time, and effort we put into it.


The methodology of this research will include criteria searched to solve the question, the sources used for researching the question, why the sources were used and how they applied to the research question, and how this information was compiled in order to answer the research question.

After preliminary research to narrow down a topic of study, the main arguments for and against recycling were recorded. The two major constituents of the recycling debate were first—environmental concern and health, and second—the economical factors of recycling. These two elements, both involving quantitative and qualitative values, are the main focus of research presented. By weighing benefits and negatives of these two elements, a determination of worth could be qualitatively conducted.

In this research, secondary sources were solely used including books, articles, and publications from government agencies (such as the EPA). Keywords that were searched in online research included: recycling, recycling in Utah, Provo recycling, worth of recycling, recycling blogs, waste management, EPA, and many others. Information that directly related to environmental impacts of recycling, or economic efficiency of recycling programs were sought out. A diverse array of sources were found, including: company reports and publications, magazine or newspaper articles, government sources, general reference sites, and blogs. Wide views of the issues at hand were researched, and then any sound and qualified information was incorporated into the final results.

While taking notes and quotes from research, I organized my findings into the two sections of concern: environment, and economics. The two were categorically separated by the following guidelines:
1. Environmental effects that could be incorporated into my research include:
-energy conservation
-effects of pollution
-use of virgin materials vs. recycled materials
-waste management and percent recycled
-renewable/nonrenewable sources
-effects of climate change/ozone depletion
2. Economic factors that could be incorporated into my research include:
-cost of recycling programs
-investment factor
-cost to public
-cost to city
-jobs created by recycling vs. waste management
-market for recyclables
Any arguments for or against either of these categories found in articles or books were taken into consideration. By comparing how these environmental factors and economical factors affected the success or failure of recycling programs, the two were weighed against each other in order to determine worth of recycling.

Provo’s curbside recycling is currently contracted out to a company called Waste Management. In order to directly apply my findings to the city of Provo, this company was thoroughly researched to see how Provo’s recycling program was related to the two primary factors (environment and economic). With findings on how Waste Management operates, research of environmental and economic factors (as outlined above) was applied to the business and then a final decision of the worth of recycling in Provo, UT was made.


The two sides of the recycling debate (environmental and economic) can be illustrated clearly in an article titled “Is Recycling Worth the Trouble, Cost?” from ABC News: “"Whether for a good or a bad reason, Americans absolutely love recycling. That's OK as long as they understand it ain't free," Miller said…Costs aside, environmentalists still say recycling pays. "Should people waste natural resources? That's what happens, you waste it when you throw it in the landfill," said Kate Krebs, interim executive director of the National Recycling Coalition. "That really gets to the fundamental makeup of a human being. It goes against nature"” (Sealey, 2010).

To better understand recycling factors and how they apply to Provo, environmental and economic concerns will first be discussed, followed by Provo’s recycling program in depth.

Environmental Concerns

As previously stated, the city of Provo had a recycling rate of 31.9% in 2008 (Recycling Coalition of Utah), which is similar to the national average. “If wastewater is factored in, the total annual flow of waste in the American Industrial system is 250 trillion pounds. Less than 2% of the total waste stream in the United States is recycled. For all the world to live as an American we would need two more Earths” (“Get the facts”). Without factoring in wastewater, almost a third of the solid waste we produce is now recycled. An estimated 25 million Americans have access to recycling programs, which are more popular now than they ever have been before (Sealey, 2010).

There are various environmental concerns that recycling affects, including energy conservation, pollution, and effect on renewable/nonrenewable resources. In the paper recycling industry alone, creating paper from recycled pulp uses 64% less energy, creates 35% less water pollution, and creates 75% less air pollution than a virgin pulp industry would [figure 1] (“Energy spent on,” 2009). When a ton of paper is burned 1,500 pounds of carbon dioxide are released. If that paper were recycled, about 17 trees would be saved, which would absorb a total of 250 pounds of carbon dioxide annually (Platt, Doherty, Broughton, & Morris, 1991, p. 11).

Aluminum is one of the most successful and efficient recyclables currently. “Aluminum cans distinguish themselves as the most recycled and most recyclable beverage container in the world. An awesome 105,784 cans are recycled every minute nationwide” (“Why recycle?”). Aluminum reduces the amount of energy needed to make a can by 96% compared to the virgin material bauxite (Hutchinson, 2008).

Energy conserved by recycling is significant. Recycled plastic bottles use 76% less energy, and recycled newspaper reduces the energy use by 45%. “Across the board, the key factor is the energy intensity of extracting virgin materials, which is an order of magnitude higher than that of recovering the same material through recycling. “Even if you doubled the emissions from collecting recyclables, it wouldn’t come close,” Morris says. Overall, he found, it takes 10.4 million Btu [British Thermal Unit, energy equal to about 1.06 kilojoules] to manufacture products from a ton of recyclables, compared to 23.3 million Btu for virgin materials. And all of the collecting, hauling and processing of those recyclables adds just 0.9 million Btu” [figure 2] (Hutchinson, 2008). This means that making virgin materials requires more than twice the amount of energy that recycled materials would need, a clear case for the importance of recycling in energy conservation.

Recycling plays a key role in slowing the effects of climate change, reducing the depletion of the ozone, increasing energy conservation, and decreasing water and air pollution (Platt, Doherty, Broughton, & Morris, 1991, p. 11). Overall the environmental effects are very positive, and there is a lot of evidence to fully support these facts. In a study done at the Technical University of Denmark and the Danish Topic Centre on Waste over 200 scenarios were examined, in which the impact of recycling was compared to burying or burning certain types of waste material. Their results show that 83% of all the scenarios that incorporate recycling are better for the environment (“Is recycling worth,” 2007).

Economic Concerns

Recycling programs can be controversial economically, since they usually require significant up-front costs to start a quality recycling center. Some people don’t think that the recycling market is stable enough, and that it’s a poor decision to invest in. Stability and high prices of the recycling market are what cause recycling centers to thrive. ““Chicago used to pay haulers to take its recycled materials,” says Ed Skernolis of the National Recycling Coalition. “Now, it has invested $24 million to buy recycling carts for 600,000 homes and will deliver the recyclables to a single-stream processing facility—which will now pay the city instead of being paid”” (Hutchinson, 2008). This shows that with the proper investment into an efficient recycling facility, large cities can make a profit from recycling programs.

The issue is that recycling markets “don’t function smoothly. If you drink a bottle of water, the apparent cost to you of throwing out the empty or recycling it are identical: zero.” To curb this fact some communities charge for garbage collection based on the size of their garbage cans, or only collect garbage contained in specific bags the city sells. More than 7,000 communities in America have established policies like this and have had success, with recycling rates increasing by an average of 30% (Hutchinson, 2008). When people are able to see the consequences for more trash collection, they are more likely to start recycling. Their pocket book is the bottom line.

Polls completed by the National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) have shown that most Americans not only want to recycle, but are willing to have to pay for it. With recycling programs increasing in efficiency, combined with households setting out more recycling, collection costs by the programs would decrease. “Better markets for recyclables and increases in collection productivity are a must. Current market development efforts are beginning to expand some markets. Given a healthy economy and expanded markets for recyclables, recycling will hold its own” (Aquino, 1995, p. 103).

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that a well-run curbside recycling program costs $50-$150 per ton while trash collection and disposal costs $70-$200 per ton [figure 3]. Efficiency of curbside programs have increased with time and experience over the years, and have demonstrated that recycling can save money (Miller, 2009). Recycling also creates jobs—up to six times the amount of jobs than putting waste in landfills does. “Recycling creates new markets and business niches in our economy. By decreasing the annual cost of solid waste services, it frees up government funds for health and social services, transportation, and public safety” (“The top ten”).

In the summer of 2007, recyclables hit record highs based on global marketing forces. There are a few reasons for this, specifically with plastic, glass, and paper. Plastic is made from oil, which caused prices to double for recycled plastic. Glass is made from sand and energy-intensive soda ash. Following the rise in energy prices, the price of recycled glass also rose. “But the biggest factor, says industry veteran Jerry Powell, the editor of Resource Recycling Magazine, is “the recycling market’s most famous five-letter word, C-H-I-N-A.” With its ravenous demand for raw materials, China benefits from ultra cheap shipping in container ships that would otherwise sail back to Asia empty. “China is a tree-poor country,” says Chaz Miller of the NSWMA, “our recycled paper has become their forest, in a way”” (Hutchinson, 2008). China’s economy is booming and relies on raw materials. Recycled materials provide the perfect solution for China’s demands.

Waste Management

Waste Management currently has 105 recycling facilities in North America, making it the largest provider of recycling services. One of their main focuses is to make it easier for people to recycle (at home or work). In their facilities they use single-stream recycling, which eliminates the need for sorting out types of recyclables by residents and businesses [image 1]. This convenience has helped to increase participation in recycling programs by up to 30%, as well as making the process more efficient and cost-effective. Waste Management is a leader in the recycling industry, especially with their use of single-stream recycling and their innovative ideas, technology, and advanced systems.

The goals of Waste Management as an organization are vast and commendable. They include:
-become more sustainable
-reduce carbon footprint
-increase efficiency in all aspects of the business
-reduce fleet emissions 15% by 2020 (engines of trucks have been programmed to shut down after 5 minutes of idling)
-improve technology and systems
-protect and preserve wildlife
-Over 21,000 acres of land encompassing 49 sites, certified by the International Wildlife Habitat Council, have been set aside for wildlife use by Waste Management
All of these goals are geared towards reducing any negative environmental impacts, and improving environmental health. They also combine these environmental objectives with economical ones by striving towards a more efficient and therefore cost-effective system.

In 2008 Waste Management processed over 5.5 million tons of recyclable materials. Of these, 1.1 million tons of glass, metals, and plastics were processed. These materials were then turned into products like aluminum cans, rebar, plastic bottles, carpeting, clothing, glass bottles, etc. Over 623,000 tons of glass were recycled, which saved approximately 5.6 million gallons of oil. Over 257,000 tons of plastics were recycled, which saved enough energy to power almost 130,000 houses for an entire year. Over 214,000 tons of metals were recycled, which reduced greenhouse gases equivalent to approximately 281,000 cars operating for the entire year.

Waste Management makes a profit from recycling, which has only been increasing with time. In a span of two years their revenue increased from $905 million in 2006 to $1,180 million in 2008 [figure 4] (“2008 Annual report,” 2009). With Waste Management’s contract with residential Provo, blue bins are provided for a fee of $5 a month. Recycling is picked up every other week along with regular garbage.


The ultimate goal of this research was to determine if recycling is worth it in Provo, UT by examining environmental effects, economic factors, and the business that manages Provo’s recycling.

Environmental effects of recycling are all beneficial. Energy conservation is one of the largest factors, since recycling and using recycled materials can save tremendous amounts of energy. Along with this, air and water pollution are also decreased since less energy and new resources are being used. These tie directly in with the environmental costs of using virgin materials versus recycled materials. Recycling also conserves nonrenewable resources and allows the market to rely more heavily on renewable resources. All of these components make up an environment in which climate change and ozone depletion are slowed, leading to greater environmental health.

Economic factors of recycling consist of cost of programs, jobs created, and market for recyclables. Initial costs for creating a recycling program can require large investments, which some people reprove due to a perceived instability of the market. However, with increased efficiency of recycling, programs can cost anywhere from $20 to $150 less than garbage disposal. Regarding the job market, recycling has been shown to create up to six times the amount of jobs that putting waste in landfills does. It creates new markets and niches for further business to develop and grow, and decreases the overall cost for waste services.

Provo contracts their main recycling program out to a business called Waste Management. This company has proven to demonstrate positive environmental goals and practices, as well as being cost-efficient and profitable. With goals such as sustainability, reduction of carbon footprint, efficiency, and protection of wildlife, they encompass all the positive aspects of recycling. Where they see themselves lacking, they are proactively improving. This can be seen in examples such as increasing efficiency of their vehicles. Waste Management provides all the resources necessary to efficiently recycle, and Provo has taken advantage of this program. Instead of making a large investment of a city-owned recycling facility, they have contracted out with a company that is well established and reputable.

In conclusion, with all the benefits of recycling that have been illustrated in this paper, there is no reason not to recycle in Provo. It is well worth it, as illustrated in fundamental recycling principles as well as in Waste Management’s business practices and ethics. Recycling helps our environment, is economically sound, and has more than capable facilities available to us here in Provo.

2008 Annual report (2009). Waste Management. Retrieved from

Aquino, J.T. (1995). Waste age/recycling times' recycling handbook. New York, NY: Lewis

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Get the facts. Recycling Coalition of Utah. Retrieved from

Hutchinson, A. (2008 December). Is recycling worth it? PM investigates its economic
and environmental impact. Popular Mechanics. Retrieved from 291566.html.

Imhoff, Daniel. Paper or plastic: Searching for solutions to an overpackaged world. CA:
Watershed Media, 2005.

Is recycling worth it?. (2007, June 12). Retrieved from

Miller, H. (2009, January 1). Recycling—is it really worth it? LesTout. Retrieved from worth-it.html

Platt, B., Doherty, C., Broughton, A.C., & Morris, D. (1991). Beyond 40 percent: record-
setting recycling and composting programs. Washington D.C.: Island Press.

Sealey, G. (2010, March 8). Is recycling worth the trouble, cost?: Proposal to end NYC
recycling raises old questions. ABC News, Retrieved from

The top ten reasons to recycle. Rogue Community College. Retrieved from

Wastes - Resource conservation - Reduce, reuse, recycle. U.S. Environmental Protection
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Why recycle? Alcoa Recycling Company. Retrieved from


Kimberly said...

Where are you going to present this? There is interesting information here that can ultimately have a positive effect in your state.

yours truly dear said...

its just for my english class. i thought about sending it to the newspaper but theyve had to edit it a lot. we'll see...

angelina la dawn said...

very impressive! and i heart recycling too :)

Honeybee said...

I think the newspaper needs to know about it. :) Turned out really good! :)

jenbechthold said...

You are so smart. If you are interested, I am in charge of the volunteers at the 3rd annual Household Hazardous Waste Event that is going to be on April 10th this year and I wrote a small paper on the event last year if you want to read it. If you want to come hang out with me next saturday and keep some household hazardous waste out of our land fill I would love it!

jess said...

yes please!!!