By Chelle Cordero

March 30, 2012 5 min read

Most American communities promote programs to reduce, reuse and recycle, and though they have the support of many, there are also naysayers.

Though most solid waste management authorities applaud the difference that recycling makes in their local landfills, there are some concerns. One of them is pest control. Because plastic, metal and glass food containers often stagnate while waiting to be shipped off to respective centers to be sanitized and reused, pests may be attracted to the remaining food traces and some worry that this could create health risks.

Recycling collection programs usually include newsprint, glass, plastic bottles, aluminum and steel cans. With recycling containers parked curbside for pick-up, are we using more fuel and adding exhaust fumes to the environment in order to collect them? Are we giving consumers a false sense of security by leading them to believe that recycling is sufficient commitment to our environment?

In New York's Rockland County, residents reduce their amount of trash by separating their recyclable materials. Those materials are no longer placed in landfills; they are bundled and sold to manufacturers as raw material for new products. Revenue from these sales reduces taxes by helping to pay for recycling collection and processing. Additionally, rebates from sales of the recyclables are returned to participating municipalities based on the tonnage generated.

Some individuals simply do not recycle or recycle only sporadically. Even when the average consumer recycles everything possible, most items still need a fair amount of sorting and preparation. Plastics are numbered one through seven depending on polymer content; these numbers are most often visible in recognizable triangles on the plastic containers and are used to sort the plastics during the first step toward recycling. Depending on the community, glass, plastics and metals may be collected together and need to be separated at some point. Aluminum and steel cans also need to be sifted through.

Paper and cardboard recycling account for an estimated one-third of recycled products. In order to make paper reusable, it needs to be bleached, which introduces harsh chemicals into the environment and exposes plant workers to these toxins. Some cynics claim that the finished product is not high quality enough for purchase. Products that are not suitable for bleaching and recycling may be sent to incinerators for disposal, and the fumes emitted from incinerators are harmful to the environment.

There are potential health risks for sanitation workers. Some disposed products may contain traces of hazardous materials, such as mercury from fluorescent bulbs, solvents from cleaning supplies or other chemicals. Exposure to toxic materials can be dangerous for sanitation workers and other waste management personnel. Some municipalities may limit what can be recycled, and some schedule specific hazardous materials collection events.

In a 2007 article, Michael Munger, chairman of political science at Duke University, wrote: "If recycling is more expensive than using new materials, it can't possibly be efficient. There is a simple test for determining whether something is a resource or just garbage. If someone will pay you for the item, it's a resource. But if you have to pay someone to take the item away, then the item is garbage."

The Environmental Protection Agency supports recycling efforts. It turns waste into valuable resources and creates financial, environmental and social benefits. Recycling creates jobs, reduces emissions from the manufacturing of raw products, and conserves natural resources. In addition to reducing, reusing and recycling our own products, purchasing items stamped "recycled" helps to support the ethos and encourages manufacturers to produce those items. The steps to a successful recycling program include collection, processing, manufacturing and purchasing.

The EPA encourages everyone to conserve natural resources. Reduce packaging, buy bulk or concentrated products when you can, recycle batteries and use batteries with reduced mercury, select reusable and recycled products, use durable products that will stand the test of time, recycle automotive products and learn how to compost. Recycling helps sustain the environment for future generations.

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