What Have We Got to Lose

Picture a world where almost all waste gets recycled—as in actually recycled—allowing landfills to decrease, oceans to let out a sigh of relief, and the overall environment to breathe easier.  

Sound like wishful thinking? Perhaps, but at Food Loops, we absolutely see this as a tangible possibility.  While the EPA has set a goal of capturing 50% of all recyclables by 2030—several municipalities across the country, as well as sustainability-centered organizations like Food Loops—have set an even more ambitious goal of diverting 90% of waste from inevitably and routinely ending up in area landfills.  

Currently, the US recycling rate stands at around 32%—a far cry from the 90% rate we at Food Loops routinely achieve in both our events and office campus categories—but not all that far from the 50% target set by the EPA.

But just how much trash and waste are we talking about? Without getting too deep into the weeds with a multitude of numbers and statistics, Americans generate over 260 million tons of waste every year. Two Hundred Sixty Million Tons—or roughly enough trash to reach the moon and back 25 times. Not only would this make for a less than pleasant trip to the moon, it also places considerable strain here on Mother Earth on valuable resources.

Reaching a 90% recycling rate would revolutionize waste management practices and bring about substantial benefits. Right off the bat, it would significantly reduce the strain on landfills because make no mistake, landfills are increasingly feeling the pinch of steady streams of waste filling ever diminishing space. And with less waste going to these sites, environmental pressures like groundwater contamination and methane emissions would both be greatly eased.

Higher recycling rates also mean conserving natural resources. Take aluminum for example. Recycling just one ton of aluminum saves four tons of bauxite ore and 14,000 kWh of electricity. With a 90% recycling rate, we could make incredible strides conserving resources like forests, minerals, and water, ensuring sustainability for future generations.

But wait!  There’s more! There are economic gains to be had as well. The recycling industry already supports millions of jobs across various sectors. A 90% recycling rate would boost economic growth, creating new job opportunities and drive innovation in recycling technologies.

Last, but by no means least, better recycling rates contribute to fighting climate change. Recycling cuts down on raw material extraction and energy-intensive manufacturing processes, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For every ton of recycled paper, 17 trees are saved and carbon emissions are cut by about 5 metric tons. 

True enough, at first glance, achieving a 90% recycling rate in the US might sound like pie in the sky thinking, but when you stop to consider the very real potential upside, it would be a massive step towards a sustainable future. By minimizing waste, conserving resources, boosting economies, and protecting the environment—what have we got to lose? 

Well for starters, how ‘bout Two Hundred Sixty Million Tons of trash?!