• Ryan Zhao

On Recycling and Polar Bears

By Ryan Zhao, Grade 7

Imagine landfills piling up with trash and animals going extinct. The cause of this would in part be because we didn’t recycle. Since the Industrial Age, the Earth’s atmosphere has been bombarded with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. Due to this barrage of greenhouse gases, the planet has warmed up significantly. Climate change has cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars in the last two fiscal years alone. Yet, we have proven since the 1980s that resources such as aluminum and plastics can be safely recycled and/or repurposed to protect the environment by decreasing the production of such resources. We must recycle plastics; it is beneficial to the environment, protects all of the cute and furry animals that are endangered species and at risk of becoming extinct, and strengthens local municipalities by increasing recycling revenue while reducing the amount of land required at landfills.

Recycling plastics and metals are essential to our planet’s survival. In fact, global warming could be counteracted with just a few cans put into a blue bin per week by each American household. Recycling, which refers to the repurposing and reusing of plastics and metals, prevents the emissions of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants and saves energy by decreasing the production of these recycled materials. This, in turn, means that less energy is used, and fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Another benefit of recycling is how it preserves ecosystems. Oftentimes, you may walk outside and see plastic bottles plugging a storm drain or waterway; this has harmful effects for marine wildlife and increases the chance of flooding in low-lying areas. As a result, the plastic materials that find their way into wildlife habits will endanger many animals and directly cause their premature death. For example, if we continue to neglect recycling, many polar bears will continue to die due to climate change and global warming. Polar bears nowadays are malnourished and weak, and they don’t have enough food to be apex predators like they were before. Global warming is destroying the habitats of polar bears, and it is directly caused by the lack of recycling and the overproduction of plastics and metals that area not reused. According to a study from BBC, polar bears will die by the end of the century if we don’t do more to combat shrinking ice caps and climate change, so seeing them floating in the middle of the ocean on an ever-shrinking piece of ice is not new. These once-majestic predators are now patchy-furred and thin. Their natural foods are so scarce that after reaching shore on their ever-shrinking chunk of ice, they must scavenge around in trash cans to gain just the smallest amount of nourishment.

An added benefit for recycling is that it would translate into additional funding for towns within the City of San Diego, and these municipalities could use the monies for research on global warming and ways to combat climate change. Recycling assists us in generating more revenue for our cities, which is good for everyone. Everybody gets slightly lowered taxes, and over time, the environment becomes much cleaner. According to KPBS, in 2017 San Diego made more than 3 million dollars by selling recycled metals alone.

Furthermore, we’ve seen the impacts of reduced production due to COVID-19; when we found ourselves locked away, many factories closed down temporarily. This caused a drastic decrease in the amount of pollutants emitted, thereby causing the air quality to clear up substantially. This is because the manufacturing of plastics is oil derived, which means the process emits an enormous amount of pollutants. Recycling also helps us use less energy in producing metals and plastics, which means that we release fewer pollutants into the air by reusing them instead of manufacturing them from scratch. If we can do this consistently for years, with everyone just recycling a few bottles or cans a day, then we would see the same results that COVID-19 produced. Clear skies would be seen from horizon to horizon. With all this evidence and motivation to recycle, you would belong in the looney bin if you didn’t recycle.

So why should you recycle? To save the environment! To save the polar bears! And to save ourselves money! Everywhere you look, there are good things that will come out of recycling. Recycling is good for all of us. It helps the earth to live in harmony, and it helps maintain ecosystems and their animal populations. Recycling helps to preserve natural habitats, which allows animals to thrive. Finally, we get to earn ourselves some money without doing much. And even if recycling stopped generating revenue for American cities, this does not undermine the value of recycling. Recycling has countless benefits, as we are protecting the only known planet that we can conceivably live on. And if I have to say it again, I will: Due to our own actions, recycling is one of the few options left for us to combat our own extinction. We have the power to save ourselves by just moving our hands a few inches and dropping that bottle into the blue bin, and yet we are not making use of that power. If we don’t, what else did we get our hands for?

Cover photo from The New York Times