Every Time You Recycle a Can, You Strengthen the U.S. Economy
As a good citizen, when you faithfully toss that soda can into a recycling bin, you are contributing to a multibillion dollar industry. Yes. Believe it or not, recycling metals like steel and aluminum brings the people and the economy of the U.S. billions of dollars in income. It accounts for jobs to thousands, incurs tax revenue in billions and provides massive export opportunities.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
To understand the impact of such a huge industry, we must understand the scrap metal recycling business. When cars, machinery and even airplanes are no longer usable, they are sent to scrap metal recycling centers. These centers tear the machines apart; separate the metals, safely dispose unrecyclable bits, and produce new metal that can be used to manufacture new cars, new machinery and even new blenders.
Creates a Circular Economy
Steel is the most recycled material worldwide. This is largely due to the fact that steel can be recycled over and over and over again with no loss in quality from its original state. In 2010, the scrap recycling industry in the U.S. processed 74 million tonnes of scrap steel. This created a scrap market value of more than $22 billion. That’s 22 billion that can be put to use, regenerated and sustained by just one industry.
Steel is a ferrous metal, but non-ferrous metals (containing no iron) can also be recycled infinitely without losing their physical and chemical properties. Recycling non-ferrous metals like aluminum, zinc and copper increases the value of the non-ferrous scrap industry each year, which means that each year this industry adds more revenue to the U.S. economy than ever before.
Encourages International Trade
Each year, the U.S. scrap metal industry exports scrap products worth billions to more than 90 countries, including China, Turkey, South Korea, Taiwan and India. These countries import the metals and then use them to manufacture their own products. Their use of recycled scrap further lessens the use of valuable raw materials like iron ore. There is also an 86 percent reduction in air pollution and a 76 percent in water pollution through the use of recycled steel.
The scrap recycling industry supports hundreds of thousands of jobs per year—both directly and indirectly. These jobs come from the direct production and financial procedures that occur during the recycling process as well as those working in auto yards and machine supplying services that facilitate the actual recycling of the metals. These jobs add to the sum of the total economic activity generated by the U.S. scrap recycling industry, which numbers in billions.
To add to it, these jobs are not limited to those living in the urban areas. The scrap metal industry has facilities in rural areas as well as cities, in all states, in every part of the country. Thus, the industry is as widespread as it is profitable.
The scrap metal industry provides billions in state and local revenues each year. These returns are then used to help local communities all over the country. Add to that the federal taxes by the industry and its employees. That makes it billions of dollars in taxes that the scrap recycling industry provides each year to the U.S. economy.
The scrap metal industry is definitely strengthening the U.S. economy. Millions of tonnes of scrap metal, paper, plastic, glass, textiles, rubber and electronics are recycled each year to manufacture reusable items. And yet, according to Sims Metal Management, $7 billion worth of "waste" material was disposed of in landfills in 2010 instead of being recycled. If we all do our part, we can avoid this waste and help the scrap metal industry boost our economy even further.
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By 2030, almost a third of all the energy consumed in the European Union must come from renewable sources, according to binding targets agreed in 2018. Sweden is helping lead the way.
Sweden is a world leader in renewable energy consumption. Swedish Institute/World Bank
Naturally Warm<p>54% of Sweden's power comes from renewables, and is helped by its geography. With plenty of moving water and 63% forest cover, it's no surprise the <a href="https://sweden.se/nature/energy-use-in-sweden/#" target="_blank">two largest renewable power sources</a> are hydropower and biomass. And that biomass is helping support a local energy boom.</p><p>Heating is a key use of energy in a cold country like Sweden. In recent decades, as fuel oil taxes have increased, the country's power companies have turned to renewables, like biomass, to fuel local 'district heating' plants.</p><p>In Sweden these trace their <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank">origins back to 1948</a>, when a power station's excess heat was first used to heat nearby buildings: steam is <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/district-heating-system" target="_blank">forced along a network of pipes</a> to wherever it's needed. Today, there are around 500 district heating systems across the country, from major cities to small villages, providing heat to homes and businesses.</p><p>District heating used to be fueled mainly from the <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140" target="_blank">by-products of power plants</a>, waste-to-energy plants and industrial processes. These days, however, Sweden is bringing more renewable sources into the mix. And as a result of competition, this localized form of power is now the country's<a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360544217304140#fig3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> home-heating market leader.</a></p>
Sweden is using smart grids to turn buildings into energy producers. Huang et al/Elsevier
Energy ‘Prosumers’<p>But Sweden doesn't stop at village-level heating solutions. Its new breed of energy-generation takes hyper-local to the next level.</p><p>One example is in the city of Ludivika where 1970s flats <a href="https://www.buildup.eu/sites/default/files/content/transforming-a-residential-building-cluster-into-electricity-prosumers-in-sweden.pdf" target="_blank">have recently been retrofitted with the latest smart energy technology</a>.</p><p>48 family apartments spread across 3 buildings have been given photovoltaic solar panels, thermal energy storage and heat pump systems. A micro energy grid connects it all, and helps charge electric cars overnight.</p><p>The result is a cluster of 'prosumer' buildings, producing rather than consuming enough power for 77% of residents' needs. With <a href="http://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:1232060/FULLTEXT01.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high levels of smart meter usage</a>, it's a model that looks set to spread across Sweden.</p>
<div id="d7bf9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8757b138d5570bec9d6aad18074a429a"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1273556364263071744" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Read more about Western Harbour and book a visit: https://t.co/ujSmVs9rNK 🏡🌳🌊 https://t.co/C5PuPziqIM</div> — Smart City Sweden (@Smart City Sweden)<a href="https://twitter.com/SmartCitySweden/statuses/1273556364263071744">1592474473.0</a></blockquote></div>
Scaling Up<p>A recent development by E.ON in Hyllie, a district on the outskirts of Malmö, southern Sweden, <a href="https://www.eonenergy.com/blog/2019/February/sweden-smart-city" target="_blank">has scaled up the smart grid principle</a>. Energy generation comes from local wind, solar, biomass and waste sources.</p><p>Smart grids then balance the power, react to the weather, deploying extra power when it's colder or putting excess into battery storage when it's warm. The system is not only more efficient, but bills have fallen.</p><p>Smart energy developments like those in Hyllie, Ludivika, and renewable-driven district heating, offer a radical alternative to the centralized energy systems many countries rely on today.</p><p>The EU's leaders have a challenge: how to generate 32% of energy from renewables by 2030. Sweden offers a vision of how technology and local solutions can turn a goal into a reality.</p>
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