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Did you know that in the U.S., we generated approximately 245.7 million tons of municipal solid waste in 2005? That seems staggering, but it is actually a reduction of 1.6 million tons form 2004! This decrease happened mainly thanks to recycling, which increased by 2 percent. That may seem like a small number, but it adds up to 58.4 million tons of valuable commodities being recovered from winding up in landfills.
Did you also know that by reducing the amount of energy used by industry, recycling also reduces greenhouse gas emissions and helps prevent global climate change? This is because much of the energy used in industrial processes and transportation involves burning fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel and coal, the most important sources of carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions into the environment. Additional benefits are derived from reduced emissions from incinerators and landfills and by slowing the harvest of trees, which are carbon sinks.
In addition to greenhouse gases, recycling can reduce a range of pollutants from entering the air and water. By decreasing the need to extract and process new raw materials from the earth, recycling can eliminate the pollution associated with the initial stages of a product's development: material extraction, refining and processing. These activities pollute the air, land and water with toxic materials, such as ammonia, carbon monoxide, methane, and sulfur dioxides. Further reductions are achieved as a result of energy saving, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants.
(Source: Municipal Solid Waste in the United States: 2005 Facts and Figures, U.S. EPA, 2006).