This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The recycling cynics have been saying it for years: All that stuff you sort through and go out of your way to put in a recycling bin just ends up being hauled to the landfill anyway.
It's an excuse for the cynics' failure to put in the effort. But it turns out to be no excuse at all. It turns out that the avid Utah recyclers are not naive after all for trusting that recycled newspaper, phone books, aluminum cans, catalogues and paper do, indeed, get turned into new newspapers, insulation, paper and soda cans. In fact, the Salt Lake County recycling program, in which 96 percent of households participate, successfully recycles 95 percent of the materials that residents put in the recycling bins.
That's better than the 80 percent average for the country.
The Salt Lake City program recycles a robust 33 percent of all household waste, an increase of 13 percent since a curbside yard waste pickup was started last October.
But while those are good percentages compared to national averages, they aren't good enough. We can do better, and it's worth the effort. The facts debunk another recycling cynics' myth: that turning old materials into new doesn't save enough energy to justify the extra human effort.
For example, recycled aluminum uses 95 percent less energy than what is needed to make new cans from original material, and recycled paper requires 40 percent less. It takes half as much energy to recycle plastic as it takes to burn it in an incinerator. And think of how much landfill space we could do without if everyone recycled. The Salt Lake County sanitation department estimates that 30 to 60 percent of the waste headed to the landfill could have been recycled.
So recycling lives up to its promises; the old myths about it are no excuse. We just need to do a whole lot more of it.
In Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, you won't get cited for failing to recycle, as you might in a "greener" city like Seattle. It's really up to the individual. And it's not that hard. The county provides a bin for recyclables and one for other garbage. The city also has a can for yard waste. It's a simple matter of putting items in the right place.
The most efficient recyclers are those who make it a habit. The county offers some good tips to help rookies get accustomed to thinking about recycling as they go about their routines: Put a container for recyclables right next to your regular garbage can. Try making it a contest among family members.
What matters is not how it gets done but that each of us develops the recycling habit.