What Happens to Materials During the Recycling Process?

If you recycle on a regular basis, then you understand the steps that you must take to get materials from your home to the recycling bin. But what happens to your glass, metals, and plastics once collectors take them away? Though you may never witness it, each material undergoes a unique process to ensure that it can once again re-enter the product stream as new items. Read on to take a closer look at five of the most common recyclables and what happens to them during the recycling process:


plastic beverage cupUpon arrival at the recycling facility, workers wash plastics to remove any labeling or other possible contaminants. Next, the facility sorts each type of plastic into a separate category. For example, all PET plastics—such as water bottles—go into a group of their own. After isolating each plastic type, the facility breaks each material down into smaller pieces. To this end, they load the plastics into shredding machines that tear them into flakes or chips.

Next, the facility heats the pieces until they melt and then reshapes them into small pellets or fibers. The final step involves sending these recycled plastics to manufacturers who use them to create brand-new products, such as furniture, insulation, and carpeting.


glass containersAfter consumers place their glass recyclables for collection or bring them to recycling plants themselves, workers begin the process of organizing these materials by color. Some facilities may, however, skip this step by requiring local consumers to pre-sort their glass into groups of clear, brown, and green containers.

Recycling workers then wash all separated glass pieces to rid them of debris and run them through special machinery that compresses them into a material called cullet. After combining this substance with limestone, sand, and soda ash, workers place the entire mixture into a furnace for melting. Recycling plants can use the resulting material to create new containers or other glass products. The durability of glass makes it possible to repeat the recycling process an infinite number of times.


metalAll metals typically fall into one of two categories: ferrous (combinations of carbon and iron) and non-ferrous. The former group consists of materials such as iron, wrought iron, and steel. The latter contains aluminum, copper, and tin, as well as precious metals like silver and gold. Most recycling centers process non-ferrous metals, many of which originate in the homes of consumers. However, iron and steel top the list of the world’s most recycled materials. This is due to how easy it is to get these materials from demolished buildings and scrap yards. In fact, almost 40 percent of all crude steel production uses recycled steel products.

Once the metals arrive at the recycling facility, workers separate them by category using specialized magnets. After inspecting each item to determine its quality, they wash the metals using water or chemicals to rid them of their paint and any protective coatings. Facility workers then shred the metal items and feed the pieces into designated furnaces for melting. When these materials reach a liquid state, workers pour them into molds that will allow them to cool into an oblong-shaped block called an ingot. The recycling process ends when workers transform these ingots into large, malleable sheets of metal and send them to manufacturers for reuse.


paperWhen consumers place their paper recyclables into their curbside bins, collectors transport them to the local recycling facility, where workers sort them into different groups depending on their grade and type. The paper must then enter the “pulping” stage, during which time workers filter it through a mill. As it combines with water, the paper separates from any glue, ink, or other non-paper elements and transforms into a slurry-like material. Recycling workers then process this pulp several more times to fully prepare it for reuse. During this step, they can also add in various elements that will turn the pulp into different types of paper, like cardboard. They then use the paper slurry to create large sheets, which they let dry before rolling and shipping them off to their final destination.


old phoneIn order to prevent old mobile phones, computers, and other electronics from ending up in landfills, recycling centers must send these items must undergo numerous recycling steps. This process begins when the facility sorts each electronic item and separates it from its battery components. Workers must then begin taking each electronic apart by hand, a step that involves retrieving the most important parts and classifying each one by type. In some cases, certain components, such as circuit boards and batteries, must go to special processing facilities.

After dismantling, facility workers must break down any item that people cannot easily re-use into pieces that are no larger than 2 inches. Recycling facilities require these e-waste pieces to go through another step of disassembly, which ensures the removal of all dust particles. After further separating of materials using magnets, water, or a combination of both, facilities then send the salvaged items off for reuse. Metal components such as tin and copper go to smelting facilities that safely recycle them.


7 Major Companies with the Most Innovative Recycling Programs

There is no doubt that recycling is a team effort. While individuals are taking extra steps to reduce, reuse, and recycle the products they use every day, businesses must do the same. A number of major international companies are already doing their part with recycling initiatives that allow them to both recycle their own products and keep other items out of the waste stream. From electronics giants to famous apparel brands, here are seven of the most notable companies with innovative recycling programs:

  1. Dell

Dell logoLooking to target the issue of e-waste, Dell has created a policy that enables its customers to dispose of their old electronics in a safe, environmentally friendly way. The company will accept and recycle any of its branded items. Those who have non-Dell electronics may also submit them for recycling, but only if they then purchase one of the company’s branded products. Consumers may drop off their items at affiliate Goodwill locations or mail them to the company with a free shipping label.

Dell’s unique e-waste recycling initiatives do not stop there, however. Through a partnership with the National Cristina Foundation, the company connects customers with charities and schools that could benefit from used electronics. Dell also operates a printer supplies recycling program that allows individuals to bring old printer cartridges to Dell Reconnect sites or Staples office supply stores for safe disposal.

  1. Method

Though known primarily for its line of cleaning products, Method has made a new name for itself in the realm of recycling. The company is looking to reduce the amount of plastic that ends up in the ocean by working with groups who remove plastic from Hawaii’s shores and recycling these materials into eco-friendly bottles. In collaboration with Envision Plastics, Method has developed its innovative Ocean Plastic 2-in-1 Dish + Hand Soap bottle, which uses both ocean plastic and other post-consumer materials. These biodegradable bottles are the first of their kind to use ocean plastic as their main component.

  1. Crayola

crayola logoSince initiating the ColorCycle program, Crayola has worked to reuse old art supplies and teach children about the importance of recycling. Any K-12 school may take part in the initiative, which invites students to collect old Crayola markers and send them back to the company. Crayola provides prepaid, printable shipping labels, so schools can participate in the initiative for free. The company uses the returned markers to make a clean-burning fuel. Educators can also use Crayola’s specially designed lesson plans to teach their students about recycling and environmental sustainability.

  1. Nike

Nike is shrinking its environmental impact by transforming old sneakers into a new material called Nike Grind. Made of recycled polyester and other reused substances, this new, sustainable material is now used in nearly three-quarters of all Nike products. In addition, the company uses Nike Grind to create durable running tracks, tennis courts, and other surface coverings. Those looking to support Nike in their sustainability efforts may participate by donating their old, worn-out shoes through the company’s Reuse-A-Shoe program.

  1. Levi’s

Levi's LogoFamed retailer Levi’s is working with clothing collection firm I:CO to offer a one-of-a-kind recycling garment program. People who wish to dispose of their old clothing and footwear—whether Levi’s brand or not—may take their unwanted items to any of the company’s U.S. stores. In return for their donation, they receive a coupon that awards them 20 percent off their next Levi’s store purchase. I:CO then collects the used clothing and shoes and prepares them for recycling if they cannot be reused.

  1. Adidas

Another company that is tackling ocean plastic pollution is Adidas. The company has made a huge recycling impact thanks to a partnership with Parley for the Oceans, which recovers plastic from the sea. With the help of the organization, Adidas has developed a line of sustainable footwear called the Parley series. As of May 2017, the line includes three versions of the company’s UltraBoost shoe, which is made of reclaimed ocean plastic. By the end of the year, Adidas hopes to manufacture one million of these shoes. With each UltraBoost shoe requiring 11 bottles to make, this would help remove 11 million bottles from the ocean.

The Parley series is far from Adidas’ first sustainable venture. In the past, the company has created smaller, limited product lines made of recycled polyester. Adidas also previously used recovered ocean plastic in their soccer uniforms.

  1. Brita

In collaboration with Haws and TerraCycle, Brita has made it easier than ever for its customers to recycle their used water bottles and filters. Once they’ve collected five pounds of old Brita products, people can pack them in a box, print out a complimentary shipping label, and mail them to TerraCycle for safe recycling. The company recycles the Brita products into new plastic items, such as outdoor seating and watering cans. The materials in the Brita filters are converted into energy.

7 of the Most Sustainable Alternatives to Plastic

Plastics are all around us, inside nearly every product that we come into contact with in our daily lives. Manufacturers favor this material because it can last for years and is easy to mold into practically any form. Despite these benefits, however, plastic can also harm the environment. Not only is it created from fossil fuels, but it is also difficult to recycle much of the time. As a result, researchers have begun to develop sustainable alternatives that will reduce our dependence on traditional plastic. Read on to learn more about seven of the best plastic substitutes.

  1. Liquid wood

A unique type of biopolymer (also known as bioplastic), liquid wood offers both the appearance and function of traditional plastic, but without the harmful environmental effects. The base of this material is lignin, a byproduct that comes from paper mills. To create liquid wood, manufacturers take lignin and combine it with water before placing it in an environment with extreme heat and pressure. This transforms the lignin into a composite substance that is flexible enough for the manufacturer to form into any shape, but also highly durable. Already, scientists from Germany have used liquid wood to create children’s toys and containers for speakers.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of liquid wood, however, is that it is completely biodegradable. It is also easy to recycle, since it is made from wood byproducts. As such, liquid wood is quickly becoming the go-to alternative for many traditional petroleum-based plastics.

  1. Silicone

Image by Didriks | Flickr

Some companies are also using silicone in lieu of plastic when looking to create more eco-friendly products. Much like rubber, silicone shares many of the same characteristics of plastic, including its pliability and capability to resist both heat and water. However, it boasts a durability that is far greater than plastic, which makes it excellent for numerous applications, particularly in the healthcare field and in manufacturing.

Silicone can also make an excellent alternative for household plastics such as plastic wrap. One company, Lekue, uses silicone to create a range of sustainable food storage lids. These products maintain their flexibility across multiple uses and do not absorb food odors. Silicone can substitute for numerous other plastic-based products, including baby bottle nipples and insulation.

  1. Glass

In the past, most people used glass containers to hold their drinks and food products. Though the world has moved on in favor of plastic, glass remains the more sustainable alternative. As opposed to plastic, glass is made from sand, which makes it free of potentially harmful chemicals. Moreover, glass can undergo the process of recycling an infinite number of times. This makes it easy for manufacturers to turn old glass into new bottles and other products. In addition, people can easily reuse glass bottles and containers for any number of purposes. Glass products may cost more than their plastic counterparts, but they last longer and have a smaller environmental footprint.

  1. Starch-based plants

Over the years, starchy plants have become another popular source for sustainable plastics. The most commonly used material is corn, which manufacturers can process into a polyester called polylactic acid (PLA). As its name suggests, this material is made from the lactic acid produced when corn undergoes wet milling. Using PLAs, manufacturers can create virtually any product or packaging that would normally be made of plastic. These polymers are particularly beneficial because of their ability to fully biodegrade within a span of 47 days under industrial composting conditions. They also do not let off toxic fumes when they burn.

Corn is not the only starch-based plant that can create effective plastic substitutes. Over the years, researchers have developed polymers out of sugarcane, beets, and potatoes.

  1. Milk protein

Taking a cue from the starch-based plastic alternatives, a team of researchers from the US Department of Agriculture has developed a method for creating a unique film out of milk proteins. In particular, they are focusing on the protein casein, which is found in abundance in milk. Though casein-based plastics have existed for more than 100 years, these materials have been far too fragile to serve as more than a substitute for rare jewelry components such as ivory.


By adding citrus pectin and glycerol to casein, however, the USDA researchers have been able to develop a sturdy, but fully biodegradable plastic alternative. Moreover, this material is edible, which means that packaging made from it could be entirely removed from the waste stream.

  1. Chicken feathers

Chicken feathers may seem like an unlikely plastic substitute, but US researchers have developed a means of transforming them into fully biodegradable plastics. In order to reduce billions of pounds of chicken feathers going to landfills each year, the research team sought to amplify the durability of the keratin in the feathers. When combined with methyl acrylate, keratin transformed into a plastic-like substance that was virtually tear-proof. Fully biodegradable and taken from a renewable source, chicken feather plastics are one of the most eco-friendly plastic substitutes.

  1. Biodegradable plastics

There are also a number of biodegradable plastics available that are helping to reduce the world’s dependence on traditional plastics. One such product is made by Tipa Corp, which took inspiration from the orange peel in their quest to create sustainable packaging. Looking to create a packaging solution that mirrored the biodegradability and protective nature of the orange skin, the company used a unique blend of polymers and other bio-materials to make a flexible, compostable plastic substitute.

You Need to Know About These Innovative Recycling Startups

As more consumers turn to sustainable living, they are also looking to purchase from companies that share a similar dedication to the environment. In recent years, entrepreneurs from across the globe have begun to cater to this growing market by establishing eco-friendly startups. Many of these business owners have focused on recycling, which enables them to reuse old products in creative ways and help consumers to reduce the waste that they produce. Read on to explore a few of the innovative recycling startups that you should know about:

Green Toys (United States)

green toys logoWith facilities in San Francisco and Chicago, Green Toys is uniquely positioned to deliver its eco-friendly products to consumers across the United States. The startup is helping to eliminate milk jugs and other post-consumer plastics from the national recycling stream by using them to create all manner of tableware and children’s toys. As of 2016, Green Toys had used more than 45 million milk jugs in its products.

Green Toys’ manufacturing process begins with material recovery. After cleaning the milk jugs that it receives, the startup shreds them into small flakes so that it can process them for production. With the addition of safe food coloring, the plastics are ready to find new life as toys such as train sets, vehicles, and play kitchen pieces. Not only are these products sustainable, but they are also free from harmful toxins.

POM POM (India)

PomPom logoEntrepreneurs Deepak Sethi and Kishor K. Thakur established POM POM in an effort to accommodate the recycling needs of over 1 million people in South Delhi. Looking to make it more convenient for locals to recycle, the startup allows its clients to arrange for the pickup of any type of recyclable.

Through the POM POM website or mobile application, consumers can book collection services in a few simple steps. First, they must input the approximate weight of each material that they wish to recycle. After then inputting the pickup location, they will be able to select from a list of available time slots throughout the day. During collection, POM POM’s recycling representatives will digitally weigh each material to gauge the value and provide immediate compensation to the client. The system both simplifies the process of recycling for South Delhi residents and provides valuable incentives to those who participate.

Evrnu (United States)

evrnu logoThe Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that Americans dispose of more than 13 million textiles every year. Of this total, 85 percent goes to landfills. The team behind the Seattle-based Evrnu has sought to reduce the amount of textile waste by recycling old clothes into brand-new fiber. Using its patented system, the startup takes solid textiles and turns them into a liquid that it then presses through a filter. The process generates a pure thread while using less water and fewer CO2 emissions than it typically takes to produce new cotton and polyester fibers. As a result, Evrnu has built a system that provides a sustainable outlook for the future of textile recycling and creation.

Indosole (Indonesia)

indosole logoIndonesia is known for its abundance of disposed motorcycle tires, which typically end up in landfills, rivers, and other dumping sites. While many developing countries opt to burn these materials to create fuel, this creates dangerous emissions. Recognizing the harmful environmental effects of these practices, Indonesian startup Indosole is saving tires and recycling them into sustainable footwear. The startup works directly with tire brokers to obtain the materials they need to create soles for shoes and sandals. During the manufacturing process, Indosole’s team carefully cuts each tire into a shape that will fit onto the bottom of a shoe. They then pair each sole with an artisan-crafted upper and adhere it using hammers, glue, and heat. With the addition of an insole, each piece of footwear is then ready for sale. Through this work, Indosole hopes to recycle 1 million tires that would have otherwise gone to landfills or been burned.

EcoPort (Hong Kong)

ecoport logoSince its inception in 2014, EcoPort has become one of the leading recycling entities in Hong Kong. Pairing sustainability with technology, the startup is making it easier than ever for the city’s residents and businesses to recycle. Through EcoPort, local consumers can request a wide range of recycling services such as on-demand collection and recycling bin drop-off. To help its clients monitor their environmental impact, the startup also allows them to connect to their own unique Waste Dashboard. This useful tool shows them how much waste they create, how much they recycle, and where it goes.

In order to encourage more people to recycle, EcoPort also focuses much of its work on the realm of education. To this end, the startup regularly sponsors recycling events in the local community and works with schools to develop better educational tools for students.

Garbags (Portugal)

garbags logoPortugal-based Garbags is dedicated to minimizing the amount of waste that goes into landfills. After spending years researching and testing new ways to recycle common household materials, the startup has developed a product line that allows it to breathe new life into used drink containers, toothpaste holders, coffee cans, and other packaging materials.

Garbags works with both locals and its network of green business partners, both of whom regularly donate their recycled packaging. Through the upcycling process, the startup turns these materials into useful products such as backpacks and bicycle storage bags. To date, Garbags has helped divert more than 170,000 packages from landfills.



7 of the Most Common Recyclable Materials

Whether you have just caught the recycling bug or you’ve been sorting your trash from your recyclables for years, you’ll often find yourself asking one question: can I recycle this? What you can and cannot put into your recycling bin differs depending on where you reside, but there are a handful of materials that most recycling facilities will accept. Here are a few of the most common:


paper lettersPaper products are some of the most common items in the waste stream, contributing to more than 27 percent of all municipal solid waste in the United States alone. However, many paper products can be recycled. One of the most common of these is mail, including newspapers, magazines, and “junk mail” advertisements. Paperboard—the material used to make breakfast cereal boxes and some frozen food containers—is also recyclable. You can even recycle many types of envelopes, including those that include see-through plastic windows. Some cities also allow you to recycle old phone books, but you should check to see if you can put them out with curbside recycling, or if you need to bring them to a special facility.

At the office, you can recycle much of the paper that you use. Many companies recycle both high- and low-grade paper, ranging from standard printer paper to newsprint.


You can also recycle the majority of the metal containers that you use on a daily basis. Aluminum cans are unique in that they are completely recyclable. When recycled, these materials undergo a process of sorting, shredding, and melting that allows them to re-enter the production cycle as brand new cans. Within two months after you place them in your recycle bin, aluminum cans can be back on store shelves as new products like soda cans or aluminum foil.

Steel cans are also easy to recycle. Whether you have empty soup cans or metal coffee containers, you can recycle them along with their lids and paper labels. Other common metal recyclables include empty pie tins. Before you recycle any metal products, however, you should make sure to clean them of any food residue.


waterMost municipalities will accept any plastic items stamped with the 1-7 codes as well as the HDPE 2 and PETE 1 labels. Another way to tell which plastics are recyclable is to look at their shape. Anything in the shape of a bottle or jug—like a two-liter soda bottle or a one-gallon milk jug—is typically suitable for recycling. Always remember to rinse your plastics and remove their lids before bringing them out to the recycling bin. Taking these steps will help the people who work at recycling facilities, and ensure that these materials can be reused to make new plastic containers and other items such as polyester.


Recycling companies usually accept most types of cardboard. For example, you should always save and recycle corrugated cardboard materials such as shipping boxes. Through the recycling process, these materials can become a wide array of new, useful products. In fact, some paper towels and sheets of paper that you use every day may have been corrugated cardboard at one time. Some recycling programs will not accept certain types of cardboard, however. You may need to throw away cardboard that has plastic lining or wax covering—check with your local recycling facility to be sure. It’s also important that you remember to break down all boxes before placing them in your recycling bin.

Grey water

In prominent countries such as the United States, each person will use an average of 101 gallons of water every day. We use water in all aspects of daily life, including showering and washing dishes and clothes. The result of this water usage is grey water—the waste water from sinks, showers, and washing machines. There may be bits of food or soap in the water, but not sewage—grey water does not include wastewater from the toilet.

It takes a bit more effort than tossing your recyclables in a bin, but it’s possible to recycle grey water, too. You can start by simply placing a bucket in the shower to catch the spray, and using this to water your plants. (You will have to avoid using any harsh soaps or shampoos that could harm your plants, however.) More elaborate grey water recycling systems are also possible—like those that pipe the water used by your washing machine into your garden outside. Find more information at greywateraction.org, and always be sure to check with your city to see if recycling grey water is allowed in your area.


e-wasteSometimes called “e-waste,” electronics make up another category of products that you can recycle. As gadgets such as computers, stereos, and cell phones reach the end of their lives, do a little research to determine which local facilities will accept and recycle them. This is especially important if you’re looking to dispose of certain electronics such as old televisions, which can contain chemicals and metals that can be hazardous if they’re thrown into a landfill. Thankfully, there are several electronics companies, municipal recycling programs, and non-profits that accept e-waste for recycling, or at least safe disposal.


Take extra care when recycling glass bottles and containers, as some recycling centers will only accept certain colors of glass. Clear, uncolored glass is almost always recyclable. Another type of recyclable glass is brown (or amber) glass, which is typically used to create beer bottles. You can usually recycle any green glass bottles that you collect as well. Be sure to wash the bottles to ensure that you’ve removed all food debris before recycling.

An In-Depth Look at the Different Types of Waste

Whether at home, out dining or shopping, or at work, people around the world generate waste every day. Both hazardous and non-hazardous items constantly enter the waste stream, posing unique challenges to those whose responsibility it is to dispose of them safely. In order to understand how to properly handle and dispose of the waste that we produce, it’s important to first recognize the various kinds that exist.

Municipal waste

dumpsterSometimes referred to as solid waste, municipal waste consists of waste from homes, schools, stores, offices, and other residential and commercial buildings. Any type of non-liquid waste falls into this category. There are many different components of municipal waste, each with its own decomposition time span. For example, paper materials typically take up to 30 days to decompose, whereas plastic materials such as bottles can take 450 years to break down. Glass bottles have the longest decomposition period of all municipal waste materials, requiring around one million years to fully decompose. In general, cities dispose of this type of waste by sending it to landfills.

Food waste

Food waste accounts for the vast majority of all municipal waste. In the United States alone, around 40 percent of food ends up in the trash. In a 2012 report, the Natural Resources Defense Council found that this accounts for $165 billion in food waste every single year. This food not only takes up large amounts of space in U.S. landfills, but it also acts as a major contributor to the country’s methane emissions. Methane is a harmful greenhouse gas that’s 20 times as potent as carbon dioxide.

Food waste is a type of organic waste, which also encompasses things like lawn trimmings and clippings from the garden—anything that was once alive. Food waste includes leftovers from meals, fruit and vegetable scraps, egg shells, coffee grounds, and the remains of anything else we eat at home or in a restaurant.

Hazardous waste

Any substance that can be dangerous to the health of people or the environment receives the designation of hazardous waste. These materials can come in many forms, each of which poses a different kind of threat. Hazardous waste can be generated by industrial and manufacturing processes, but it can also be found in the home. So-called “household hazardous waste” includes common products like paints, car oil, drain cleaners, and batteries.

While some hazardous waste can poison humans and animals, other types run the risk of exploding or reacting badly with other compounds. All hazardous waste requires a special form of handling and disposal to minimize its threat.

Medical waste

medical wasteHealthcare facilities produce a wide range of special waste that can both pollute the environment and harm humans and animals. One form of medical waste, for example, is out-of-date medications and other controlled substances. In the United States, more regulatory agencies are beginning to focus on the proper disposal of these potentially hazardous materials.

Another common type of medical waste comes from hospitals, in the form of used needles, bandages, fabrics soiled with bodily fluids, and medical cultures. A large portion of hospital waste may contain infectious bacteria or viruses, which makes proper disposal a requirement.

Construction and demolition waste

Sometimes included as part of general municipal waste, construction and demolition (C&D) waste is generated by all kinds of building development and renovation projects. The most common waste materials found on construction sites include carpeting, wood, and concrete. In the United States, many developers recycle their C&D waste and receive LEED Certification credits in return. The waste typically undergoes sorting and the reusable materials are removed prior to disposal in a landfill.

Nuclear waste

nuclear wastePerhaps the most potentially harmful type of waste is the used nuclear fuel left over from nuclear power plants and reactors. While inside the reactor, the uranium in the fuel breaks down into radioactive isotopes of certain metals. This nuclear waste (also called “radwaste”) remains in a dangerous state of radioactivity for years—sometimes thousands of years.

However, radwaste is unique from all other types of waste in that its hazardousness decreases over time. Eventually, all nuclear waste becomes non-radioactive. It is important to note that the length of time that it takes to lose its radioactivity depends on the type of waste. High-level waste, which is 95 percent radioactive materials, will take longer to become non-radioactive than low-level waste, which is only 1 percent radioactive.

There are many ways that humans can dispose of nuclear waste. During the first several years, the waste remains underwater, so that the radiation can decrease to safer levels. After this, power plants can sometimes recycle radwaste for further use, but it often goes into concrete or underground storage in a secure location.

Recyclable waste

Though many items end up in the waste stream, many of them can be recycled so that they can be reused in the future. This not only minimizes the consumption of raw materials, but it also prevents usable items from taking up space in landfills. People can typically recycle paper, glass, aluminum cans, plastics, and metal goods in their local communities. According to a study by the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, 43% of Americans have access to both a curbside recycling program and a local drop-off facility; 30% have curbside collection only; and 21% have drop-off programs only.

Composting is another form of recycling that allows individuals to divert biodegradable materials from the landfill. Fruit and vegetable scraps, along with yard trimmings, break down over time, creating rich compost that can be used to fertilize a garden.

This Is How Manmade Reservoirs Are Destroying the Planet

For thousands of years, dams (also referred to as reservoirs) have been utilized as water storage method with a variety of uses, including agricultural and industrial purposes. Most people probably don’t think about dams until a major failure happens, but dams are more prevalent than one might think.

In fact, just during the 20th century, about $2 trillion was spent building dams worldwide. Previously, dams were mainly powered by non-renewable energy sources. However, newly-constructed dams are powered by hydroelectricity, which is somewhat better for the environment.

Despite their widespread use, dams can be detrimental to ecosystems in a variety of ways. Additionally, they can pose major threats to people in the event of failure. Here, we look at how dams pose a threat and what can be done to manage risk.

The Oroville, California Disaster

The catastrophic dam failure that occurred in California during February 2017 is a reminder that man-made reservoirs can be quite dangerous. After heavy rains, the dam gave way and created a huge mess causing large-scale evacuations.

Aerial images showed how devastating the resulting damage was after California’s Department of Water Resources resorted to using the spillway after weeks of heavy precipitation. Once the rain subsided, ecologists and other officials were able to fully view the damage to the spillway, which was designed to withstand about 250,000 cubic feet of water per second.

Despite its large capacity, the Oroville dam had a significant amount of erosion. This is a common problem with man-made dams. As it stands now, the Oroville reservoir levels have gotten low enough that the spillway will not need to be utilized again this season. The spillway will need to undergo extensive repairs before next year. However, in addition to dam failures, there are variety of other negative environmental impacts that these structures have on the environment.

Danger to Natural Habitats

One of the main causes of extinction is habitat loss, and freshwater habitats are among the most at-risk. Dams can damage natural habitats, since building them in a river or near a river changes the entire ecosystem in the area.

First, dams serve as barriers, which can prevent fish from following their normal migratory patterns. In addition, dams confine fish, causing their lifespans to decrease. When combined with a decline in water quality, both of these factors can contribute to extinction.

Dams also cause changes in water temperature and chemical composition, especially salinity. Changes in salinity occur because water flow is diminished downstream. This can make the water hazardous to aquatic species as well as make them more susceptible to being attacked by predators.

One real-world example of this involves the extinction of freshwater dolphins in China after the construction of the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River. In other waterways, fish are at risk of extinction as a result of the presence of dams. A similar outcome occurred at The Glines Canyon Dams in the Elwha River in Washington, where salmon and steelhead trout populations were completely decimated.

Dams Are Prone to Sedimentation

Another major problem directly related to man-made dams is sedimentation. This occurs when water flow is decreased, subsequently sending sediments to the bottom of the reservoir. As sediment builds up at the bottom, the storage capacity of the dam is diminished.

Not only that, but sediment is prevented from being carried downstream, leading to less nutrient-dense soil vital for animals and foliage. Depleted soil also inhibits proper tree growth, thus making the soil erode faster. Fewer trees can also make removing greenhouse gases from the air more difficult.

Dams Contribute to Greenhouse Gas Emissions

As reported by Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research, dams emit methane in amounts that account for approximately 4 percent of the global warming attributable to human activity. Methane gas produced at the reservoir bottom is responsible for much of this pollution. However, scientists estimate that 95 percent of dam-related greenhouse gases are emitted by turbines, spillways, and downstream areas.

Plant matter located beneath reservoirs gives off greenhouse gases as it is broken down by anaerobic bacteria. The anaerobic bacteria then emit carbon dioxide and methane gasses, negatively affecting air quality and contributing to climate change. On top of that, if the reservoir isn’t properly filled, greenhouse gas emissions could equal those of coal-powered stations according to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

Dams pose a considerable threat to wildlife and natural habitats. Concerned citizens and environmental activists have concentrated on removing existing dams and replacing them with more efficient and eco-friendly alternatives.

Due to environmental concerns, environmental groups are looking forward to finding sustainable solutions for fixing problems that lead to dam failures. That way, a situation like the one in California can be avoided in the future.