By: epSos .de - CC BY 2.0
By: epSos .deCC BY 2.0
I seem to have run into an obstacle in my marriage, regarding recycling. My husband seems to be under the impression that it takes more energy to recycle a bottle, or can, or cardboard box, than it does to simply toss it in the garbage — and therefore, it’s not worth recycling, because it’s creating more pollution than just tossing it.

So, I have some questions:

  • Does it really take that much energy to recycle a bottle? Is it still better than just tossing it in the trash?
  • What is the truth about recycling and the impact on the environment?
  • And if, in the end, it really is better to recycle than to not, how do I convince my husband to start getting into the habit of recycling, instead of garbaging?


Seems like while there is some debate, recyling is ultimately worth it. That said, there’s no denying that REDUCING and REUSING are always going to be way more efficient than recycling. Could you frame your discussions with your husband to focus on the value of those?

Homies, what are your thoughts? Is recycling worth it? If so, how can Amy convince her husband to get on board?

Comments on Is recycling still worth it?

  1. This is a challenging and complicated subject, for sure! Where I’ve landed is trying to create contribute as little new garbage as I can, and reuse or repurpose as much of my garbage as possible; paper and cardboard work their way into art projects, and glass and plastic containers are re-used as food storage.

    This NY Times article is a little old (1996) and long, but a very interesting read.

  2. Recycling is also about using less new resources which absolutely Is important. We don’t have endless resources to be able to just chuck it in landfill and assume more raw materials will just appear. As they won’t.
    I hope this point is helpful.

    • For some things, sure. But glass? Not a rare resource and it does take more much more fuel to recycle than create new. Consider the energy resources used to turn a bottle back into a bottle: transport, sort, clean, melt, transport, melt, manufacture, transport, fill.

  3. I personally see recycling as a no-brainer, especially now it’s *so* much easier than in the past. (This, I’m sure, depends where you live.)

    Also, I would say recycling is not just about the energy it takes to make new things. It’s also about non-renewable resources. One day we won’t have the resources left (petrochemicals derived from petroleum) to make plastic the way we do now, for example, so it’s good that we start learning to recycle now. Also, landfill – even if it takes less energy to make a new plastic bottle, the old one has to go somewhere.

    But reusing and reducing waste is really important, probably more so than recycling in some ways. If you’re thinking about reuse, remember to consider how other people could reuse things too. For example, donating clothes, furniture, CDs, etc etc, that you don’t want is a huge help to someone who is much worse off – and definitely reduces your impact on the planet.

    • And likewise don’t forget to check out Freecycle, second hand stores etc. whenever you need something new, because someone might have gotten rid of exactly what you need.

      • Second hand stores are definitely something I check first for things (or, in the case of our new table & chairs, friends moved out of the country, and gave it to us for free!) – so many things I’ve found there, that I’ve gotten for cheaper than brand new, but still in perfectly good condition!

    • Also, it’s important to remember that it’s not just a question of the energy required, but also the resources used. Pulping trees for cardboard/paper, extracting oil for plastics, mining metals for tins & things, these all end up with more carbon in our atmosphere, at a time when even governments that are less environmentally progressive are at least introducing carbon-offsets and so forth.

      Also, urban areas especially are rapidly running out of space that can be reasonably used for landfills. If the dustmen need to drive for 2 hours or more there and back after picking up the rubbish, what possible benefit could there be?

      Yes, as has been long acknowledged, reduce and reuse are the most important first two steps, but what you can’t reduce or reuse, at least recycle!

  4. Do not forget that you are also saving the energy necessary for creating a brand new bottle or box from raw natural materials every time you recycle. Recycling is most definitely worth it. There is a great book called Garbageland – – in which a woman asks similar questions and goes on the quest to learn everything there is to know about trash and recycling. Check it out!

  5. I wish it was more widespread to still get your milk or anything in a glass bottle, use product, take bottle back, and so on. The one place in our area that does it is very expensive and isn’t even very close.

    In the mean time, we reuse mason jars and jam jars for storing food or as drinking glasses.

    • It’s pretty common where we live (San Francisco East Bay) At least 2 local milk producers do reusable glass bottles, and you drop the bottles off at any grocery store that sells their milk. The deposit is 1.50, which you get back when you drop the milk off. There is also a community supported kitchen (which I used to work for) that sells their products in glass bottles for a dollar deposit, and then you return the glass bottles and get the deposit back.

    • I buy my dairy in glass bottles from Whole Foods and return the bottles there for about a dollar deposit. Maybe other grocery chains offer this as well?

    • Hmm, one store, right by where I work, sells milk in glass bottles, however, the amount of milk we consume (I drink almond milk due to allergies, and he only uses it when he makes mac&cheese once or twice a month), plus the large cost difference for glass-bottled vs carton’d….we don’t have a large budget for groceries as is! *sigh*

  6. It’s true that recycling some products uses more of some resources than it saves, but most products are more of a trade-off rather than a total loss. One product might use more raw material and coal energy to produce in a traditional sense while it may use more gasoline energy and water to recycle. Usually, though, the sum total of energy usage is in the positive–anywhere from about 20% less for recycled glass to 80% less for plastic bottles.

    I think recycling is more problematic the more rural your location is. More specifically, how little recyclable material your region produces, compounded with how far they have to travel to actually be recycled. I grew up in a small town didn’t produce much recyclable stuff. The center had to hold onto cardboard until it could fill a whole 18 wheeler, meaning our city took off cardboard a few times a year. Same went with bottles and glass. When things were scant, they combined shipments with nearby cities, but that meant transporting it the 30 minutes to the town over. Meanwhile, they were incurring staff, rent and electricity costs just to store the stuff. That, I think, is more of a city government issue. My mom keeps her pop cans out behind the house in sealed bags and takes them off to a scrap yard herself–they get recycled, but she gets paid for them without incurring any additional cost.

    I agree with the idea that the focus in your household should definitely be the other two R’s. But do continue to recycle.

    • This is a really interesting point. I just moved to a tiny rural town, and the recycling is handled the same way. Also, I came from a coast (where the vast majority of our recycling was shipped off to third-world countries) to more inner-country, where the reality of “what do we do with these recycled items?” is a more immediate problem.
      I always wonder if it’s really worth it to clean out in order to recycle the peanut butter and mayonaisse containers, meaning is it worth the hot water, the soap, etc? Unfortunately if we want to recycle glass, we have to take it to the nearest city, 45 minutes away. We return our drink containers for the deposit, and I try to reuse many glass jars, but it’s frustrating to totally have the easiest solution be to throw something away.

      • Unless you’re scrubbing everything for several minutes under a continuously running tap (which you shouldn’t need to do) the water useage to clean recycling should be minimal. I normally do all of ours at the end of doing the washing up. The water might be a little grey (or brown, or yellow if we’ve had curry) but that doesn’t matter. It’s not using any extra water or soap.

        But I’m fairly certain even if you do clean it seperately the overall impact is lower than the cost of transporting that stuff to landfill and making all new stuff from scratch to replace it.

        • Yup, transport costs (environmental, not financial) are pretty minimal compared to what you save by not landfilling it. Here in the Netherlands we are even importing waste from several other countries in Europe, in order to burn it in our waste-to-energy installations, and studies show that even with shipping from England or Italy to the Netherlands, the environment is better off than when the waste would have been landfilled in its country of origin.

    • I’ve heard this a few times but I’ve never really understood it. How do you reuse a piece of paper that’s covered with writing on both sides for example?

      Admittedly it’s probably been reused to get to that point but isn’t it still better to recycle it as well rather than throw it away?

      • But you could then scrunch up that paper as padding for something to send to a friend, for example. (Of course, what does said friend do at the other end?)

        • That’s true (although I tend to save padded envelopes and those cardboard Amazon packs for posting stuff) but after that you’ve still got the piece of paper which still needs to either keep being used, be thrown out or recycled.

          I’m all for reusing things, but unless that use means destroying them (like the fire lighters my parents make from egg boxes, wood shavings and old candle wax) you’re still going to have the thing afterwards and sooner or later you’re going to have some stuff you have no use for. When that happens I don’t understand why it isn’t still better to recycle it rather than let it go to landfill.

  7. I learned from a few documentaries (including ) that plastic is difficult to recycle, and a lot of plastics really aren’t as recyclable as they lead you to believe. So any time you can reuse your plastic containers, the better. Or avoid using plastic all together as much as you can. I stopped using plastic bags from the store, and either stick to the reusable ones, or paper–because paper is easy to recycle. I even put my produce in a reusable bag instead of the plastic bags they supply in the produce aisle.

    If you want a reason to get your husband to recycle, Google pictures of The Great Pacific Garbage Patch and show them to him. It’s extremely horrifying and depressing.
    ( )

    Kudos on your recycling efforts. 🙂 Keep it up!

    • I just watched Bag It recently and that movie came to mind as I read this post. I’m glad to see someone else got something from it as well. It hit home how serious I needed to get about remembering to use my own bags at stores.

      • It really makes you aware, too, of just *how much* plastic you use every day, doesn’t it? We went to Doran Beach a few weeks after watching it, and I was devastated looking at the sand, and seeing all these tiny pieces of plastic mixed in.

  8. I got your back! In most cases, it’s much cheaper energy-wise to recycle a material rather than dig up or synthesize more of it–like with aluminum cans, you can power a lightbulb for several hours just with the power saved from recycling.

    Here’s a totally legit National Geographic article to back you up!

    Plus there’s the very excellent point people have made that it’s not just about energy, it’s about finding the stuff in the first place.

    Furthermore, it’s important to recycle just to keep materials out of the real world and in a place where they can be dealt with properly. Use some pictures like these to emphasize that point:×24

  9. More importantly, you could be costing your county tax dollars! In the area I used to live in Wisconsin, recycling wasn’t heavily enforced and the city was paying thousands of dollars in fines to divert recyclable goods from the landfill — because the landfill wouldn’t take them. They decided to switch recycling systems, had a new facility built, distributed those large wheeled bins, and made it a by-law to recycle.

    The townspeople were SO AGAINST recycling — for many of the same reasons as your husband — that the agency I was working for at the time was hired to do a full-scale marketing campaign (more tax dollars for people to grumble about) to convince them it’s good. As a Canadian-born kid that’s been recycling since I can remember, the whole thing just blew my mind, and I was super behind that initiative. The idea was that, over a short period of time, they were going to save more than what was otherwise being spent on waste reclamation, not to mention much needed job creation as well.

    One of the biggest problems is that recycling done poorly is also a waste, and one of the votes against doing it at all…but it’s hard to get in the habit of rinsing containers, etc., when you’re already set in your ways (like my husband!) I’ve used similar arguments as above to convince him why it’s ultimately good to recycle, but still can’t make him DO it. What we’ve come with is that I’ve told him that anything remotely questionable that could be recycled/reused/upcycled, he just needs to leave it out in a designated spot on the counter. Then I take care of it when I pass by — rinsing it, collapsing it, putting it away for reuse later, whatever. It works for us.

    • My husband understands the need and benefits to recycle, but again out of habit or laziness it’s hard to get him to rinse or flatten containers. So I say just leave it in the sink and I’ll rinse and toss it in the recycling bin, cardboard leave outside the trash bin and I’ll flatten it and put it in recycling.

      • Sometimes people do change their habits too.

        When my husband and I first lived together he genuinely found recycling confusing because he’d never done it before. He had no idea what could and couldn’t be recycled, what needed to be rinsed or collapsed, and where to put it (even though we only have 2 bags, one for glass and one for everything else).

        So the deal was he would ask me before throwing anything out. Which officially is still the case but he’s not asking as much. He knows any paper and card gets recycled (and that if the paper has big blank areas I want to keep it for reusing first) and is getting the hang of plastics (although he seems to go by specific items, for example he knows to recycle Coke bottles but still asks about lemonade ones).

        I think he just needed time and practice to adjust, without feeling like I was pressuring him (which would have made him refuse completely).

        • People do need guidance when they’re new to recycling. My partner grew up in an area where there wasn’t much recycling, while i’m a city kid that has been doing it my whole life. I got little poster from our local council that shows what can and can’t be put in our recycling bins, and it’s going well so far…except for the hummus containers!

  10. If you want to make recycling a habit I’d say to make sure you have a large recycling bin and small trash can. That way you won’t be tempted to put recycling in the trash because its easier. Also you should have a space for the bi so you’re not tripping over it.

  11. Not only is your husband wrong for all of the above reasons, I think he’s comparing apples to oranges when thinking about the energy equation. Remember from middle school science about the “energy cycle”? Regular consumption + throwing away is that energy cycle at work, no modifications: comes out of the ground, processed into your bottle, consumed, returned to earth (most likely to never EVER decompose, and kills fishes.) By recycling, it’s like putting a turbo on the cycle: comes out of the ground, processed into your bottle, consumed, recycled! *turbo magic* processed into a new bottle, recycled, processed, etc. etc. It really changes the whole dynamic of the cycle, putting the end of the product further down the line, getting more use from the same bit of raw petroleum mined from the ground.
    And I don’t care who you are, but less waste (by not needing to mine as much) means there is less energy expenditure total.

    • Another bonus to using municipal recycling, your city benefits from selling all that scrap/recycling. The city uses that money to keep your parks clean, pay its workers, and lay infrastructure such as better city drains. Keeping your taxes lower!!

  12. I wish I could find the article I read to support this, but another thing you can do is buy larger containers of things like yogurt and sour cream (assuming you use enough of those things to use them up before they spoil) because it takes less raw material and energy to create, ship, and ultimately recycle a large container than several small ones. The article I read was specifically about plastic yogurt containers, but it seems like the principle would apply to most anything.

    • I don’t know about America but some companies in the UK have even started to advertise their products this way. It seems to be mainly washing up liquid and fabric conditioners (where they’re also trying to persuade people to buy the concentrate) but it’s catching on with other products too.

      Annoyingly some people still seem to have this mental block where they think ‘bigger pack, costs more, waste of money’ and won’t buy it, even though it actually works out cheaper AND is better for the environment. It also means you’re going shopping less often, so you save time as well.

      Plus I find it amusing to buy “family” packs of everything for just two people.

      • On the other hand, if you can’t use the stuff before it goes off, that’s not really a net gain.

        Obviously you have to be smart about it! 🙂

        • That’s true, although when I wrote that post I was thinking about stuff that doesn’t go off (or takes years to do so).

          Storage space also gets to be an issue. I got a bit depressed reading the article on here about the ‘zero waste house’ only to realise that it was mostly centered on buying stuff loose in bulk to load straight into big glass jars, transporting them home by car and storing them in a pantry that is literally the size of my entire kitchen.

          But you can compromise. I can’t do that, but I can buy the 1kg bags of rice and pasta rather than the little 500g packs or boxes of individual portions. We can get through the 600g “family pack” of cheese before it goes off, and it works out nearly 1/3 cheaper than a 3oog pack and has half the packaging.

          Like you said you need to be smart about it.

        • You can also bulk cook and freeze food though (as has been mentioned on OBH before) which means less cooking in general! 🙂 Still need to be careful but it means if something is about to go off, cooking and eating a week later is still an option.

      • My problem here (as a mother of 4 and owner of an in home daycare) is the bigger the pack, the more frivolous people are with the product because there is plenty of it. It’s a mindset that is difficult to change. I mostly work around it by hiding the large pack and putting out limited amounts.

  13. My aunt quit recycling simply because every time she put it out in her driveway the wind would blow it everywhere. So she said “F it!” and started throwing it in the garbage…

    • It seems sometimes like seemingly minor obstacles such as this one are commonly the problem when people don’t recycle. This is also true for rinsing containers or living in places where you are required to pre-sort containers/paper…

      • When I lived in KC, they would only pick up one very small bin of recycling. Nothing more. So we had the convenience (paid-for) of pick-up, but realistically we still had to haul our recycling to a place.

  14. Metal cans are without a doubt better to recycle. Plastics and paper can depend on where you are from an energy expenditure stand point.

    Bill Hammock, the Engineer Guy did a video saying 50% of what’s in the landfill is a paper product of one sort or another. Everything from newspaper to cardboard boxes to the cups, bags, and containers from fast food joints and all the rest of it. If taking the paper to the recycling center isn’t feasible for you, would composting be?

  15. Adding to/reiterating what others have said:

    I think your husband is doing his analysis wrong. It’s not about whether it’s more energy to recycle vs. toss….it’s about whether it’s more energy to recycle vs. creating a brand new thing from scratch.

    The exact “energy” savings will differ from product to product, and there are a million variables like where the material was sourced from and how much distance it had to travel, if your recycling facilities are local and the recycled items are used locally, etc etc.

    Overall though, it’s less energy, water and money to recycle (even if only part of the item can be recycled) than it is to create something new from scratch.

    As well, as others mentioned there are additional costs and environmental impacts, including the grossly insane cost of maintenance and upkeep for landfills, creation of new landfills and impact to landfill life span, and a million others than I won’t list (because this already giant!).

    I currently work for a municipality, in finance, and my portfolio includes the Environmental Services department. 🙂

  16. This may not be the case with your husband but honestly every time I’ve heard someone use that argument and really gotten into debating it it’s always, without fail, come down to the real issue being they think it’s more effort for them to recycle it than to throw it away but they want to give a reason that’s harder to shoot down.

    So if you live with them the best solution is often to make recycling easier. It depends a bit on how the recycling system works near you but you can streamline your own system too.

    I’m lucky in that my town provides everyone with a bin and ALL recyclables except glass go in there together. They don’t need to be seperated or anything. So we have a tiny rubbish bin (slightly smaller than a carrier bag) with a lid on it and next to it is an open bag for recyclables and another one for glass. It’s actually easier to toss something in there than to open the bin and try to fit it in. Then it just needs to be taken round the back of the building and emptied into the big container there. Glass we take to the bottle bank outside our supermarket and then use the bag to carry shopping home.

    Admittedly at first my husband still insisted it was too complicated to know what could and couldn’t be recycled, but with practice he got the hang of it.

  17. Despite wanting to be environmentally conscious, I admit to having always been kind of a halfhearted recycler…until I suddenly realized that I could make MONEY off of it! Now I am super vigilant about saving all my cans and bottles, and I am also looking into a local paper recycler that pays too.

    I mean…it’s not a lot of money. For me and my husband it’s maybe about $10 a month, and it takes about a half hour to go take the stuff in. But there’s still something thrilling about getting cash for what is essentially garbage.

    Maybe money might be a good motivator for your husband too?

  18. I just wanted to quickly add the reusing glass sounds great, but be careful about the plastic you reuse! BPA can leach out and is more likely to if you reuse plastic that contains it!

    • Not just BPA. The other chemicals in plastics aren’t proven to be safe, they just haven’t been proven to be unsafe. Reusing is great, but best to avoid reusing plastic for anything to do with food, or if you must, avoid washing it in the dishwasher or otherwise exposing it to heat, which will break down and leach the chemicals faster. has a lot of resources and information about avoiding plastic in the first place.

  19. We live in a rural area and don’t have recyclables curbside pickup. But there is a single-stream recycling dumpster in the parking lot for my lab. They encourage students and employees to make use of it too. So even though I am driving a half hour to drop off recyclables every week, it is not out of my way at all, since I park in the lot every day for work anyway. This I think is the best kind of solution because it doesn’t even rely on a big truck wasting gas to pick up stuff at every house.

    Also, almost everything we own is second-hand from relatives, auctions, or Craigslist. Even our house itself has been around since 1900. And most things of ours get sold at the auction instead of tossed. I think reusing things is the most important part of the equation.

  20. I’m not sure about the argument of what uses more energy/creates more pollution
    but in our household the answer to my husband recycling was to make it as easy as possible for both of us (and any house guests)

    The answer was to create my own RECYCLING STATION
    (this photo was taken in my old house but they’re still in the same order in my new house, now just next to the garbage can and our reusable grocery bags – including the one we use to take 5c deposit bottles back in)
    – it’s clean and tidy so it doesn’t look like there’s a pile of crap in the kitchen
    – right next to the garbage can so when you’re throwing something out it’s easy to make the right choices
    – well labelled so everyone can follow it
    – a money maker with those 5c deposit bottles

  21. Several commenters have already mentioned this, so I’m not really dropping any special knowledge here, but…aluminum cans=MONEY. We live in a fairly backwards place and our recycling as a whole is pretty limited (just plain cardboard and plastic bottles are picked up curbside) but we save our cans and scrap them every two weeks or so. It helps that my partner works at a city park, where people constantly throw away aluminum cans, so he saves them and once we get a good load we turn them in. We are always picking up random scrap metal that folks have tossed on the side of the road as well, and every two weeks a pickup truck load of cans/random metal nets us enough for a nice dinner out. It’s not likely to make us rich any time soon, but the fact seems to be that the majority of people where we live either don’t realize that aluminum is something that you can be paid for, or don’t feel like fooling with it. If you have a scrap metal place where you live (and I bet you probably do, or close) maybe the idea of trading trash for cash might motivate your hubby to at least consider recycling?

  22. At the very least when it comes to cans, your husband is dead wrong. There’s a lot of environmental damage associated with the mining and refining of metals. The environmental costs of recycling them is nothing compared with the costs of sourcing virgin materials.

    You also have to consider the environmental costs of landfilling. The stuff you throw away is going to persist in the environment for a very long time, and over time you are eating up more and more land with landfill. And there are fewer and fewer places willing to take garbage after local landfills fill up.

  23. Using as little as possible and re-using the things we use (as in recycling) is always a worthwhile endeavor. While my BF has been heard saying stuff such as, “I do not get anything for recycling, so why should I do it?” I feel that it is a good thing to do. A stack of newspapers recycled saves one tree. Things that might be used for more good purposes (Germany has got a plastic-collection policy and uses the plastics collected to make park benches and lamp posts- for example) should never end up in a landfill. And if you have ever seen and smelled a landfill, you might get an idea why that is. Plus most ressources are not endless.

  24. Thank you all so much for the wonderful feedback!!
    Right now our main obstacle is living in a basement suite. Why? Well:
    1) It prevents us from having a compost bin. Which is something I plan on asking the landlord about – the have a decent size raised bed of dirt in the backyard (which is otherwise all paved), which looks like it should be for gardening – but it’s untouched. For next summer, I will be asking if I can plant some vegetables and herbs, and start a compost. If they aren’t using it, I might as well!
    2) It prevents us from putting cardboard and plastic into the recycling bin. We’re permitted one bag of garbage per week, but since the recycling bin is so small, there’s no room for us.

    My current RRR’s are going to go like this:
    – reuse plastic containers where and when I can (my husband won’t complain, cause I won’t be spending more money on new containers. yay!)
    – start a bag specifically for tin & aluminium cans and containers – like pop cans, and aluminium baking tins. When full, this can be taken to the recycling depot, and we can get some money for them!
    – we already use cloth bags for shopping, we’re just not good at remembering to bring them along! So, if I don’t have a cloth bag, and it’s not big enough/heavy enough, I just put it my purse (which is big & spacious).

    My only thing now is cardboard & tin foil.
    I noticed above, someone said they recycle tin foil – how does that work? Does one need to wash it off first? We use a fair amount of tin foil, and I would love to recycle that if I could…. Is there a decent replacement for tin foil out there that I could reuse, instead of throwing it out after every use? (If not, someone please invent it!!)
    Cardboard is an obstacle, simply because, well…we’re lazy. But, I suppose they could be brought to a recycling center when we bring in our pop cans…

    Anyways, I’m bookmarking this article for future reference/guidance!! Thank you everyone!! <3

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