Recycling involves the conversion of waste materials into reusable product (Benefits of recycling, n.d.). According to a report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately 30% of solid wastes in the United States are recycled. 55 percent of these wastes are disposed into landfills and an additional 15 percent is disposed in incinerators (Shaw, n.d.).
Throughout mankinds history recycling of materials has been practiced knowingly and unknowingly. Recycling has been practiced with the aim of maximizing on economical gains of using recycled materials rather than extraction and processing of virgin materials. This can be seen in Britain during the preindustrial times when they used ash and dust from coal and wood fires to provide materials for making of bricks used in construction (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
During the ancient times people practiced recycling whether intentionally or unintentionally. They used to buy milk in bottles which would be placed outside on the doorstep after use and this will be picked up and refilled, but as time went by this way of life was phased out and people opted to buy their milk in paper cartons for its convenience (being lighter and made it easy to use) which they would use and dispose off. This scrapped off the recycling aspect and the service which was created by the previous lifestyle making the current generation less conscious about the environment (Benefits of recycling, 2009).
During the world wars nations such as the United States initiated metal and scrap campaigns to ensure their people recycle these materials to aid in the war. Patriotism fed this drive to recycle and this helped many countries survive that period which was also marred by insufficient resources (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
After the war some of the countries continued with the recycling attitude, but the agenda shifted towards saving of energy due to an increase in its cost. A lot of opportunity to maximize on the economical gains was realized in the energy sector. Production of certain materials such as aluminum from virgin materials consumed more energy than recycling the same this made countries to opt for recycling of these materials (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
Recycling has continued to grow as a lifestyle owing to the development of policies. For example, when the city of Berkeley in California decided to ban the use of polystyrene packaging in 1989 and by 1999 led to the development of over 1,500 plastic recycling companies in the U.S alone (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
Recycled paper is paper that has been recovered from already used paper. This waste paper is processed into new paper through an industrial process. There are three types of paper or paper products that are used in the production of recycled paper. They include; Mill broke which is a composition of trimmings from paper and other paper scraps produced during the initial manufacturing of paper, Pre-consumer waste paper which is paper disposed before it was ready for the consumer and Post-consumer waste paper which is paper obtained after utility and disposal by the end user (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
The large scale manufacturing of new paper has adverse impacts on the environment. The cutting down of trees and processing them into paper leads to shrinking of water sources and the reduction of woodland areas. Waste disposal is also a major issue associated with paper manufacturing. The industrial process involves the use of toxic chemicals which may then be drained into water bodies. This pollutes the water and damages the water life systems and even poses a threat to human health. The EPA has reported that there is a decrease of air and water pollution when paper is recycled by 74 percent and 35 percent respectively. Studies have also shown that paper comprises up to 30% of municipal solid waste (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
In 1921 Britain began recycling paper for trading purposes. Britain realized a business opportunity in the sale of recycled paper (Benefits of recycling, n.d.). Recycling has become common practice because it is one of the ways apart from reusing and reducing that simultaneously minimizes the amount of refuse disposed and saves the natural resources. As concerns for the environment grew in the late 80s the public focus was directed towards recycling as one of the best ways to conserve the environment. Businesses and Governments came to the fore with initiatives to recycle and by the year 2000 the rate of recycling was nearly twice that of 1990 which stood at 16 percent (Benefits of recycling, n.d.).
In the year 2000 approximately 56% of cardboard and paper was recycled. Recycling is economically viable this is because cardboard can be processed from different used paper. The used paper is easily accessible due to low costs and readily available since many areas such as stores and supermarkets use large quantities of this material (Shaw, n.d.).
The process of recycling results in many different outcomes and impacts in various sectors of the community. These impacts include economic and environmental benefits as discussed below.
Economic Benefits of Recycling
In developed countries recycled paper and fiber from wood are equally available. Technological advancements have made the recycling of paper simpler for manufacturers. The quality of the recovered paper is not compromised and can measure up to its new counterpart and the choice is left to the manufacturer to provide the best material for the making of recycled paper (Recycling paper, 2009).
According to Recycling Means Business (n.d.), some of the economic benefits of recycling include; Increased revenues to communities for their recyclable materials, job creation in communities throughout the country and greater national economic growth because the sector becomes an industry player. Similarly, Hefner and Blackwell (2006) assert that the recycling results in economic benefits which they listed to be; job creation, increased personal income for the employees in the sector and millions of dollars in revenue for the state. The United States Recycling Economic Information Study (REI Study) (as cited in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2012), notes that the recycling industry in the U.S. is responsible for the creation of one million job opportunities, generation of millions of dollars in payroll and revenues for the state. In addition to the above, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (2004) is keen to point out that recycling also leads to reduced costs of production in many industries. Alvarado (2004) sites job creation as the most crucial contribution the recycling industry has on a population.
Environmental Impacts of Recycling
In comparison to other paper waste disposal options such as landfilling or incineration, paper recycling results in less negative environmental impacts such as the production of less harmful greenhouse gases and less energy consumption (Information Sheet, n.d.). Ace (n.d.) clearly states that recycled paper leads to production of less harmful green house gases and goes on to discuss these in detail. According to Borkowski, & Kelley (2001), the environmental benefits of using recycled paper in the magazine industry include annual savings in; the use of wood, production of greenhouse gases, energy use, solid waste production and other particulate emissions. A compound of environmental benefits as a result of paper recycling include; reduced pressure on forest management as more trees are saved, energy saving and less environmental pollution as the amount of green house gases emitted are reduced. Shaw (n.d.) however thinks otherwise when it comes to forest management and tree saving. She states that recycling will have no impact when it comes to tree saving as many trees are planted for the sole purpose of paper production.
Set Backs in the Process of Recycling
Recycling still remains a manufacturing process capable of emitting wastes and causing pollution just like any other process of manufacturing. There are toxic chemicals which are produced during the processing of virgin paper the same chemicals are evident in the recycling process which emit even higher levels of the toxins. The other issue is that most trees are planted for paper making purposes and thus if recycled paper gains dominance in the world market, then virgin paper would lose its demand and this will translate the same to the tree forests created for purposes of paper. The owners of these forests will bring down the trees to put the land into other economically viable uses in this case making recycling a counterproductive measure (Shaw, n.d.).
Once the fiber becomes short, paper pulp cannot be recycled into high quality paper thus limiting the number of times paper can be recycled (Takeuchi, 2009). In some situations recycled paper may be too expensive for any gain and in other cases obtaining of new fiber to be used as material in the paper making process may be more practical and economical. In other instances recycling will use up resources more than it preserves. In all these situations the type of paper in the recycle process will determine the benefits and disadvantages of the entire process (Recycling paper, 2009).
The private sector is known to utilize recycling where and when it makes sense economically. This situation changes when recycling falls in the Government domain. This is because Governments make costly decisions with regards to recycling and this ends up wasting valuable resources. The reason being, recycling requires a lot of manpower and capital and this may outweigh the benefits realized after recycling (Shaw n.d.).
Even though recycling has been acclaimed for its economic and environmental benefits, it has also been tainted for the production of poor quality paper (Klofta, & Miller, 1994). The fiber used in recycling paper is of a lower quality and results in the production of paper that has poor quality properties in terms of tensile, burst and even tear (Klofta, & Miller, 1994). In addition to the above, some serious health risk implications of using recycled paper have been brought forth. It has been suggested that recycled paper is unhygienic because some waste paper before recycling is highly contaminated. However, it has been scientifically proven that workers in paper recycling plants are at higher risks of developing pharyngeal, lung and skin cancers (Rix et al., 1997). Another pit-fall that accompanies paper recycling is the fact that it leads to an increased consumption of fossil fuel and energy supply being an issue, Takeuchi (2009) suggests that demand for high quality recycled paper is irrational.
Numerous studies have been carried out throughout the world to investigate the impacts that recycling has both in terms of environment and economy.
According to Northeast Recycling Council, Inc., a 2007 study by DSM Environmental in various states in America revealed that recycling led to the increase in the number of job opportunities as compared to the previous year. A study conducted by REI (as cited in FYI, n.d.) indicated that the number of employees working in the recycling sector amounted to 170,000 in over 26,000 recycling establishments in the country. The findings of this study also showed that the amount of money in annual payment for those employed in the recycling sector was $2.7 billion and that got from revenues that year was $ 14.1 billion.
R. W. Beck, Inc and Ames Economics Associates worked in collaboration to investigate the economic impacts of recycling in the State of Iowa (R.W. Becks, 2001). This team used the IMPLAN Pro input-output model to carry out the study and established that the total number of employments in the recycling industry in 1997 and 2001 nearly doubled from 1124 to 2185. In another study carried out in Pennsylvania in 2009 to establish the economic implications of recycling, it was found that the sector created a total of 52,316 employment opportunities, sales receipts of $20.6 billion and an annual payroll of $2.2 billion (EPA, 2012).
The above research findings were corroborated by a report in California which stated that the recycling enterprise employed 18,000 state residents (EPA, 1995). This growth in job opportunities was attributed to the state laws that encouraged small scale manufacturers to engage in recycling. Furthermore, this report predicted that the number of employees in the recycling sector will have reached the 45,000 mark by the year 2000 (EPA, 1995). Hefner and Backwell (2006) also echoed the above in the findings of their 2005 study that set out to investigate the economic impacts of recycling in South Carolina. Their study showed that the recycling industry created 37,440 jobs that year as well as $1.5 billion in personal income. Also, it resulted in $6.5 billion economic impact and led to the generation of $69 million in state revenue.
In a research conducted by the Alliance for Environmental Innovations (as cited in Borkowski, & Kelley, 2001), during paper recycling the use of 1 ton of recycled fiber as opposed to virgin fiber to coat groundwood paper that is used in the manufacture of magazines results in 27 percent total reduction in energy consumption. The green house gases emitted are reduced by 47% as particulate emissions go down by 28%. Waste water and solid waste significantly drop by 33% and 54% respectively (Borkowski, & Kelley, 2001).
In a 2009 report prepared by DSM Environmental for the North Recycling Council, it was recorded that there exist significant benefits of paper recycling. These benefits emanate from the use of secondary materials instead of virgin ones thereby eliminating mining costs while reducing the costs incurred as a result of transportation and processing (DSM Environmental, 2009).
The paper recycling enterprise has grown to become more developed and widely acceptable throughout the world. Technology has provided the necessary tools to simplify the conversion of waste paper into a variety of new paper. Paper recycling has several advantages which include; saving of natural resources like fresh water, wood and energy, provides employment and creates business opportunities, reduces pollution and the need to increase landfill areas and the recycled paper can be used for all the same purposes as virgin paper (Borkowski, & Kelley, 2001). Environmental sustainability is enhanced in a number of ways. First and foremost, recycling makes use of waste paper in the manufacture of paper as opposed to using virgin fiber which entails the cutting down of trees (Borkowski, & Kelley, 2001). Secondly, it leads to the emission of less green house gases that lead to global warming as the fibers in use have already been processed (Climate earth, n.d.). Thirdly, it leads to the reduction of solid waste in the environment as waste paper is channeled into usefulness (Borkowski, & Kelley, 2001)..
In addition to the above benefits, paper recycling has become a major contributor to state revenue and has been noted to generate millions of dollars annually (DSM Environmental. (2009). Even though some doubts have been raised with regards to health risks involved with the use of recycled paper, research has countered such allegations and proven that recycled is safe and free of any health implications.
In conclusion, paper recycling has both economic and environmental benefits and should be further enhanced to improve sustainability. Further research should be done in the area of sustainable recycling to counter the limited chances that fiber used in the manufacture of paper can be reclaimed. This will go a long way in ensuring that the number of times that paper can be reclaimed is not limited by the length of fiber in the waste paper. The economic viability of paper recycling will be enhanced as a result because it will take more instances of recycling before the fiber is exhausted. The private recycling companies should be monitored by government authorities and other environmental watchdogs to ensure that environmental concerns are addressed during the recycling process. This is because these private industries choose to recycle materials only if they have economical value and thus the higher the value the more the recycling activities. The focus of these industries may be directed so much on the economical gains that they begin to compromise on the environment by polluting it in their quest to recycle and this happens because recycling remains an industrial process capable of pollution.
Governments and other stake holders should come up with proper guidelines and policies to help in the control of recycling activities. These policies should be able to address issues of waste management, pollution, the cost/benefit ratio and the general environmental health.
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