What If Everyone Recycled? Top Things That Would Have to Change

Recycling is something most of us fairly encounter on a daily basis. The recycling bin is a familiar sight in many households, as parents try to teach their kids to be responsible about the environment. But what if everyone recycled? Not just “some of us” or the “eco-friendly citizens.” What if literally everyone in the world hopped on the recycling bandwagon? How would that change things?

According to experts, the planet we live on would look a lot different. It wouldn’t just be less littered and significantly cleaner. It would also means humanity could make more use of the natural resources we have. In this scenario, landfills would also shrink tremendously. Recycling centers would represent the focal point of activity.

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Brenda Pulley, senior VP of recycling at Keep America Beautiful, has a mind to convince anyone she can of the benefits of recycling.

“As a society, if everyone recycled we will have moved from a linear ‘take, make, waste’ economy to one that is more circular by keeping materials in our economy and not allowing them to waste away in landfills. It would contribute enormous environmental, economic and social benefits across the country.”

What If Everyone Recycled?

In addition to the obvious effects, here is a short list of a few ways the world would change if everyone took an active interest in recycling. The following estimates were provided by Keep America Beautiful, which compiled the data to conceptualize the scenario in which each person in the U.S. would perform just one act of recycling.

Office recycling bins


  • Aluminum cans, plastic water bottles, and plastic bags would two or three lives, delaying the final destination – the landfill – by several years.
  • According to Repreve, if everyone in the U.S. recycled just one plastic bottle, those materials could be used to manufacture over 54 million T-shirts or around 6.5 million fleece jackets.
  • According to Aluminum Association, if everyone recycled one aluminum can, the process could give us 295 million new aluminum cans. Also, the same recycling rate would decrease greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to having 6,750 passenger less cars on the road. It would also save the energy equivalent to 80,000 barrels of oil. The energy estimates offered by Keep America Beautiful use the EPA WARM calculation model.
  • If everyone recycled one plastic bag, the resulting materials could make 28,900 park benches. According to Tex data, they could also be turned into 144,530 16-foot composite deck boards. Plastic bags shouldn’t end up in the same place as other recyclables; you should take them to a drop-off center.
  • There are so many substances flowing in and out of recycling plants! According to Chaz Miller, head of policy at National Waste and Recycling Association, recycling could create many new products, some of which we haven’t dreamed about yet.

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Everyone Could Save Money

There is a ranking in terms of the most important resources we have on this planet. In this hierarchy, water is first, followed by air, coal, oil, natural gas, and minerals – in that order. But according to the Bureau of International Recycling – a Belgium-based global recycling organization – recyclables should be classified as the seventh most influential resource. Ranjit Baxi, the president of BIR, believes recycling can do more than bring humanity unimaginable environmental benefits. It can also boost economies in paramount ways.

“The recycling industry, whilst continuing to promote sustainability, is also projected to add about 850 billion USD to the global GDP by 2025. It is time that all global stakeholders [recognize] the huge carbon emission savings our industry continues to contribute,” Baxi said.

Companies would save millions if they started employing efficient recycling practices. In Apple’s most recent Environmental Responsibility Report, the tech giant announced that it reclaimed about a ton of gold from recycled devices. In cash, that value is an estimated worth of $40 million. Imagine what would happen if all electronic devices would undergo recycling!

Recyclables Would Always End up in the Proper Bins

One major obstacle stays in the way of America’s recycling success: contamination. People, unaware of the process and unsure of the rules, keep mixing recyclables and trash. This, in turn, significantly slows down recycling plants around the nation. Items that cannot be recycled constantly get caught up in the recycling belt. As a result, workers must shut down the processing, even if temporarily.

If you’ve ever thrown an item in the recycling bin even though you weren’t sure you did the right thing, you might want to catch up on the current EPA recycling guidelines. It’s close to impossible for all of us to become perfect recyclers. However, that’s no excuse to mix trash with recyclables on a regular basis. For centers to be able to recycle everything, they would need to figure out a way to efficiently separate mixed garbage from recyclables.

In the perfect world, every citizen would know the rules and abide by a streamlined recycling process. In this scenario, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – the largest floating island of trash – would also disappear. Experts estimate the U.S. would require around a thousand new facilities to process materials. Such an addition would also affect the workforce. According to Recycle Across America, 1.5 million new jobs would become available, should the U.S. reach a recycling level of 75 percent.

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But Waste Would Still Exist

Even in this ideal scenario, plenty of organic resources would still end up in landfills. Waste is inevitable, no matter the ecosystem we’re talking about. One-third of the waste currently destined for landfills is comprised of organic materials (think mulch, food scraps, and leaves). All of these are basic ingredients for homemade composting. Instead of throwing them in the trash, gardeners and commercial growers could use them as a readily available source of “black gold.”

Using recycled materials in practical ways is far better than putting them into a hole in the ground. It’s also a lot more eco-friendly. And the first giant step in the right direction would be to start recognizing these materials as resources rather than waste.

Header Image: oregonstate.edu

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Green and Growing Team

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