Earth – the Great Recycler

The Earth is made up of atoms, as well as, everything else including us. These are the building blocks of everything and they are constantly recycled and reused. At a basic level, atoms contain three parts: protons, neutrons, and electrons. At the centre of the atom is the nucleus which contains the protons (which are positively charged) and the neutrons (with no charge). Around the nucleus are the electrons (which are negatively charges). The electrons orbit the nucleus and these orbits are called shells. Atoms differ from one another by the number of protons, neutrons, and electrons they have. For example, Hydrogen is the lightest and smallest atom with only one proton, one electron, and no neutron. It is given the atomic number 1 because it has one proton. Helium has the atomic number of 2 because it has 2 protons. It has 2 electrons orbiting its nucleus of 2 protons and 2 neutrons. Gold has the atomic number 79 because it has 79 protons. It has 79 electrons orbiting its nucleus of 79 protons and 118 neutrons. This is a very basic definition of atoms, as it gets very complicated and also very interesting. But, back to recycling. Everything on Earth gets recycled. Everything living gets recycled through a process called decomposition. There is an old saying "life comes from the soil and is returned to the soil" to be used to create new life. The Earth itself is recycled. Mountains are eroded by weathering which eventually creates soil. This can take hundreds to thousands of years, so in human terms soil is nonrenewable and is a precious resource. The crust or lithosphere of the Earth is pushed down under the surface and melts where tectonic plates converge, and then, eventually returns to the surface where plates are moving away from each other. This is called plate tectonics. Also, volcanoes return elements back to the surface of the Earth where they will eventually be reused.

The Earth's recycling keeps the air we breathe and the water we drink clean, as well as, keeps the soils healthy. This can be broken down into what we call the Earth's ecosystem services. These include: the water cycle, the oxygen cycle, the nutrients cycle, which include the carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle. All of these work in a fine balance, and with the biodiversity (the vast variety of plant and animal live) provides us with water, food, fibre, medicines, and shelter. These cycles also regulate climate and energy flows.

The Earth cannot keep up with our pollution though, and this is where us humans have to step in and do our part to keep our world healthy.