The Benefits of Recycling vs Landfilling

In the recycling world, we’re frequently asked the question: does it take more or less energy to landfill something vs recycling? 

This week, we wanted to clarify some of the benefits of recycling in response to these common questions.

Why should we recycle in the first place?

Every time we create a new product or material, we need to extract natural resources from the earth. Energy is used not only to extract the natural resources, but also to turn them into a new product. 

When we recycle something, we’re reusing that material, as opposed to extracting new materials from the earth. When something goes directly to landfill, we waste all of the natural resources, energy and material that has been used to create it.

What happens to something when it’s sent to landfill?

When waste is sent to landfill, it is still covered in the plastic bin bags that have been used to dispose of the waste. The waste is then tightly compacted and buried into the ground. Once the landfill has reached a certain capacity, it is sealed over by a rubber and clay barrier to prevent any liquids or waste escaping. Soil and dirt is then laid for several feet above this and grass is planted to prevent the soil from washing away. 

What happens to the waste in landfill?

There are very low oxygen levels in a landfill environment because the waste is compacted so tightly and sealed in. With a lack of oxygen, and because everything is wrapped in plastic, it is still unknown how long it will take a lot of wasted materials to break down. A plastic bottle can take up to 450 years to decompose, whereas other items of plastics are predicted to break down over 1,000 years. 

When these materials break down at a slower rate, they release methane, which is over 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. This methane can be continually produced for however long it takes for the materials to decompose – which can be hundreds of years. 

What is the benefit to recycling?

One of the greatest benefits of recycling is that it saves energy. Fewer fossil fuels are used in process to extract and create new products, and we use less natural resources. For instance, when we recycle paper, we negate the need to cut down new trees.
According to Stamford University,  manufacturing the second time is much cleaner and less energy-intensive than the first. For example, manufacturing with recycled aluminum cans uses 95 percent less energy than creating the same amount of aluminum.

What happens when you recycle vs recycling through TerraCycle?

Waste recycled through TerraCycle is often waste that isn’t accepted in your household recycling bin. This is because it’s a hard-to-recycle material that is often too small or too complex for a recycling facility to handle, so it will be landfilled.

TerraCycle provides a guarantee to recycle all of the accepted waste that is sent to us. We provide a solution for hard-to-recycle materials that would otherwise end up in landfill, and give them a second life by turning them into usable products.

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