The Value of Recycling
There’s been an ongoing debate over the past decade on the value of recycling. The question has been raised about whether or not it’s actually worth it. Points brought up include the economic costs (obviously), the pollution the industrial process creates, the quality of the recycled products, and it all gets weighed against the environmental benefits. It’s beyond the scope of this article to make a definitive statement on the matter, since all the points are hotly debated and contested. However, if there’s one thing about recycling that has proved its value beyond any doubt, it’s recycling metals.
The Global Refining Group, which specializes in recycling catalytic converters from vehicles, recently spoke with us about the value of recycling metals and we’d like to expand on it a bit.
Why Recycling Metals Is Valuable
1. The Mining Process Is Expensive
It costs a lot of money to run a mining process. You have to buy the land a mine will be on, the equipment to mine, and the fuel to run that equipment. Then there’s the cost of labor: you have to pay the miners, the sales-department, and your accounting/legal teams. The ore has to be processed, purified, and smelted into a usable form before it gets made into the products we buy. The huge barrier to entry, made greater by environmental regulations, has scared investors away from mining in the United States for decades. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the trouble, especially when they can hand the mining off to Chinese companies that don’t have to follow environmental regulations and pay their workers next to nothing.
But we need the metals. We use them in everything. If there’s one thing the coronavirus outbreak has made clear, it’s that there’s a risk in relying entirely on another country for resources, we’re in huge trouble if something causes that country to be unable to produce. If mining is so expensive as to not be worth it, though, what can we do?
Recycling metals is a surprisingly effective solution to the problem. We’ve already mined tons of metal throughout history. A lot of it goes unused, especially after the products its made for break down. Recycling it is a huge money saver because it completely bypasses the costs of mining and processing ore. It’s so valuable to recycle metals that there is an entire industry that pays for scrap metal. That’s right, not only will recycling metal save metal producers money, it can make you money as a bonus! Why would you not want to recycle?
2. Environmental Impact
Recycling is an industrial process that creates pollution of its own. This potentially undermines the ecological benefits of recycling certain materials, like paper and glass. Even recycling plastic produces a lot of toxic pollution, to the point that producing less plastic would be absurdly more environmentally and economically sound than recycling it.
Once again, metals become a notable exception here. I mentioned earlier that environmental regulations create entry barriers to mining in the US. The reason for that is because mining, especially strip mining and open-pit mining, causes considerable ecological devastation to an area. Not only does it disrupt local ecosystems, but the equipment uses fossil fuels and puts out a lot of pollution. The EPA has been trying to find ways to limit the ecological damage mining does, but barring some unforeseeable advance in mining technology, mining will never be both environmentally sound and economically viable.
Enter recycling. Recycling metals eliminates the mining and processing part of producing metal. The more metal we recycle, the less mining needs to be done to mine metal for production. All that devastation caused by opening pits and stripping away the top soil, and all those carbon emissions from running the equipment are suddenly gone. While the industrial process of recycling does produce some pollution of its own, the amount is far far less than the mining process.
3. You Feel Good
No, I’m serious. Feeling good is a powerful motivator. It’s the reason why people have been willing to go to so much trouble for recycling in general. The idea that what you’re doing is helping the planet makes you feel good and that makes you want to do it. When it comes to recycling metals, it is unquestionably better than not doing so on all points, so that good feeling is well-earned.
Feeling good has personal health benefits. It’s well-known that stress weakens the immune system, and tension weakens joints and muscles. The reverse applies. When you feel good, your immune system is stronger. On top of that, feeling good motivates you to act. People who feel good are more productive at work, and tend to be more willing to exercise, which makes them even healthier.
Since recycling metals provides all these other hugely tangible benefits, why not also indulge in the good feelings? We all want to feel good, right? It can be a very nice boost, so why not do something that takes very little effort to give yourself that boost?
Recycling Metals Has No Drawbacks
There is no reason not to recycle our metals. Whether your concern is for the economy, for the environment, or just because you want to feel good by doing something valuable, recycling metals covers it all. It’s so rare that the economy and the environment are both benefited by the same activity. We should all take the time to recycle our metals. Aluminum is especially common, since we use it to contain so many products (food and drink cans, for example). If we all made sure to recycle all of our metals, we’d see significant benefits in our lives.
So, don’t throw that soda can away! Recycle it!