Recycling is not something that is just done in the United States. People recycle everywhere, but they recycle in different ways and in different amounts.
Outside over There
The United States creates more waste and more recyclable material per person than anywhere else. What happens to all of it? While we don't recycle as much as some other countries, we do export recyclable materials to other countries. In fact, by cargo container load, the number one export from the United States is waste paper. Almost all of it goes to China to be recycled into shoe boxes, newspapers, and other cardboard boxes. Why? China simply doesn't have enough trees to make all of the paper it wants.
When you teach your students about recycling, remind them that reusing and reducing are more important for protecting the Earth than recycling. It's great to recycle, but it should only be an option if there wasn't a way to reduce or reuse.
The United States also exports e-waste — computers, television, cell phones, and other electronics. Poorer countries accept the e-waste because there are valuable metals and other reusable materials in the products. However, in addition to the valuable materials, e-waste also contains many dangerous materials that can make people sick. As the workers break the electronics apart, they let out these dangerous materials that can make them sick or pollute their community's water and air. Critics are trying to get the people who make cell phones, computers, and other electronics to take them back when people are done with them and safely take them apart to reuse and dispose of the materials.
How Do You Compare?
In the United States, people recycle about 32.5 percent of solid waste. How do other places compare? In Switzerland, people simply refuse to throw away some materials, like glass and paper. Every grocery store has glass recycling bins, and once a month there is free paper and cardboard collection. All lawn and garden waste is picked up every two weeks and people can bring aluminum cans, batteries, and oil to special drop-off places. Almost everything has a place and little ends up as waste. Why does it work so well? It's not because they feel much stronger about protecting the environment. It's because recycling is free, but they have to pay to throw away garbage.
In Senegal, recycling is not so coordinated; it's just a daily part of life for resourceful individuals. These imaginative people find a way to reuse almost everything, from plastic bags to fruit peels (which are used in perfumes). Old cans find a new life as drinking cups. Old papers are used to wrap food that is purchased at the local market. Artists collect metal waste to construct their creations. They even use plastic bags to make shoes.
Research other countries to discover the innovative ways they recycle and reuse materials. How does it compare to the United States?