by Parker Alvis
Environmental Scientist

Happy Global Recycling Day! Today marks the 4th official recognized “Global Recycling Day.” Originally started in 2018; this day was chosen by Ranjit Baxi, President of the Bureau of International Recycling (BIR), to bring awareness to sustainability through recycling on a global scale. With a rise in the focus on climate change and the effects we all have on our environment; Mr. Baxi designated this day to encourage individuals and nations alike to view recyclable materials differently and promote immediate action. While the statistics for global recycling and emissions are somewhat bleak, the reality is we that have made great improvements through efficiency and recycling on a global scale and must continue that trend.  

Annually, the nations of the world yield billions of natural resources used to process, fuel, and produce everything we use and consume. Recycling is important for many reasons, but its largest impact is conserving natural resources and reducing their use in energy and material production. Reducing the amount of fossil fuels used for energy and production also means reducing the emissions from these practices. The Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimates that global emissions of carbon dioxide related to energy totaled over 33,000 million metric tons in 2019. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2019 carbon dioxide alone accounted for 76% of greenhouse gas emissions globally. This is mainly attributed to energy production, transportation, and industrial processes that consume fossil fuels. Energy extraction is the leading driver for habitat loss, and significantly reduces the natural means of sequestering carbon dioxide from our atmosphere through deforestation and mining practices.

While most of the public focus has been on carbon dioxide, methane (CH4) presents an even more dangerous threat to rising temperatures and adverse reactions in our atmosphere. The amount of CH4 produced annually made up 16% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 (EPA). The majority of CH4 production is attributed to modern agriculture practices and municipal solid waste (MSW) disposal. Landfills are the primary way of MSW disposal and present various drawbacks associated with growing populations and the shrinking available space for housing and necessary industry growth to support the population. Along with restricted land uses, landfills produce CH4 from the decomposition of solid wastes and present a large risk for contamination without safe practices. Recycling and reusing our global waste can have a lasting and immediate impact on greenhouse gas emissions and reduce our contribution to climate change by reducing waste and resources used to overproduce.

Ranjit Baxi stated that one of the main goals for Global Recycling Day is to have the public view recyclable materials as the “seventh resource.” The most common six natural and finite resources are oil, coal, natural gas, metals, stone, and sand. By viewing recyclables as the “seventh resource,” we can continue to change our current infrastructure to increase the use of materials that would otherwise become solid waste or pollutants. Because it is ‘Global’ Recycling Day, you may ask how this relates to us as individuals, or you may already have ideas of reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and contributing to our environmental repair. In either case, there are local resources to learn about recycling and get involved as well as best management practices that can be applied to any industry. Recycling and sustainability go hand in hand for reducing our impact on the earth’s environment!

If you are curious about sustainability practices in general industry such as ISO14000s: Environmental Management Systems, please contact Parker Alvis at (919) 459-5281 or [email protected].