Recycling can have a great, positive impact on the environment by reducing deforestation, emissions from power and processing plants, and pollutants released into the environment. Consider an aluminum can. To make this from scratch, the bauxite ore must be mined, cleaned, ground into a powder, treated to get alumina, and then refined and heated to get liquid aluminum. The liquid is poured into molds to make ingots. These are then rolled into sheets and stamped to make cans. By recycling cans, all of those steps from mining to alumina can be skipped, all of that energy saved, and all of those environmental impacts from caustic red mud wastes from mining and the toxic fluorides and volatile hydrocarbons emitted during processing are avoided.
Trash in the environment can release toxic compounds. For example, plastics release PBT (persistent, bio-accumulative, and toxic) substances and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) when they become weathered and degrade under environmental conditions. Plastics break down into microfilaments that get ingested by wildlife. The oceans are filled with plastics swirled into large patches—some big enough to form islands that you could walk on!
Recycling is a great way to reduce energy use, increase sustainable resource use, and reduce pollution. Consider this though: there are no federal laws mandating recycling! Recycling is regulated at the state level.