Midlands Voices: Increased recycling beneficial to Nebraska's environment and economy | Columnists

According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, around 67% of Nebraskans believe global warming is real. Although the figure is somewhat lower than the national average of 72%, most Nebraskans agree that recycling is a modest public response to the pernicious effects of climate change. The practice helps reduce the increasing costs of raw materials, provides employment for thousands of Nebraskans, and lessens the need for expensive landfills and their possible impact on ground water contamination and air pollution.

Recycling is a great way to reduce the amount of garbage we send to landfills. Costs of recycling services can be deceptive when comparing them directly to landfill fees alone. Clearly, these comparisons don’t account for “externalized costs” that aren’t easily measured in dollars. The indirect costs can include emissions of methane gas, groundwater contamination and reduced quality of topsoil. Moreover, improperly maintained landfills often become superfund sites requiring extensive environmental remediation and the expenditure of significant public resources.

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State Sen. John McCollister, District 20

The Aluminum Association website (aluminum.org) notes that the process of recycling aluminum uses about 95% less energy than producing new aluminum. It further notes that 75% of all aluminum ever produced is still in use today. With society’s increased desire for both convenience and innovative technology, many products today have shorter life cycles. Manufacturing products with recycled materials makes economic sense. Through large-scale recycling efforts, consumers are reducing the demand for new raw materials which ultimately saves them money. With best-practice strategies, extraction emissions are reduced, while concurrently preserving our precious ecological systems.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports about 48% of the 292 million tons of waste Americans produce each year come from commonly recycled materials. The result is that around 140 million tons of waste could be recycled each year. It is likely the amount of commonly recycled materials will also rise over time as technology advances and more materials prove recyclable. A case in point is the city of Omaha’s 2021 estimate that residents were recycling 50% more materials since larger 96-gallon garbage cans were introduced. This cause-and-effect example shows Nebraska communities are taking positive steps to increase recycling. Education programs and better community access to recycling services could easily improve participation.

According to a recent report from the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries, the total economic impact of recycling in Nebraska for 2021 was nearly $500 million. Recycling also created 2,200 jobs, and generated over $40 million in state and local tax revenues. In 2021, I introduced LB 979 to give individuals and businesses the ability to claim tax credits for increased recycling efforts. Incentives like this, aimed at maximizing recycling, should be considered by the legislature in future years.

Original manufacturers have an inherent responsibility to promote product life cycle plans — as a beginning-to-end road for their products. Given the economic and environmental benefits of recycling, it is an essential element in our effort to tackle the existential threat of climate change.

One of the biggest obstacles to increasing recycling is accessibility. In Nebraska’s urban areas, recycling centers are well-organized. Most citizens can recycle household waste materials by simply collecting it in bins for home pick-up. However, this is not the case in greater Nebraska. Improving access to recycling services in rural areas should be a priority for state and local officials. It is incumbent on the Nebraska Environmental Trust to increase recycling in rural areas.

Recycling alone will not resolve climate change issues, but it can certainly play a significant part in an overall state-wide plan to reduce carbon and CO2 emissions, lower product costs for consumers, create jobs and improve Nebraska’s economy.

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John McCollister is a state senator representing Nebraska District 20.

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