By: George Noga – Updated February 15, 2014
High in the pantheon of environmental gods is recycling. A religion is a set of fundamental beliefs based on faith about the nature of the universe involving ritual observances and a moral code governing the conduct of its adherents. Recycling in the environmental religion is accepted dogma and a universally practiced sacrament. Even those who do not fully imbibe in environmentalism, believe in and practice recycling.
The act of recycling itself is viewed as a morally redemptive, transcendental experience that meets some deep-seated emotional need. It involves just enough effort (but not too much) to impart an eco-high. Explaining to its acolytes why recycling is a waste of time, money and resources, i.e. a fraud, is received with predictable paroxysms.
“Recycling: A morally redemptive, transcendental experience satisfying deep-seated emotional needs and imparting an eco-high.”
Recycling has its own mythology which, although not as entertaining as its Greek counterpart, is equally fatuous. The top five myths will be examined and debunked; but first it must be duly noted that my quarrel is only with recycling mandated by government. For many decades businesses have been voluntarily and quite profitably recycling, inter alia, steel, aluminum, and newsprint. Recycling makes sense only when confirmed in the marketplace.
The Five Biggest Recycling Myths
- Recycling is good for the environment In many places up to half of recycled waste goes into the same landfill as other waste. Two separate trucks and crews make the pick ups and burn twice the fuel to drive to the same landfill; of course, the wasted trucks, people fuel and money (to buy more trucks, etc.) are not counted as an environmental cost. A true accounting would be devastating for recycling. The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment reports recycling changes the nature of pollution – often for the worse.
- There is a shortage of landfills This is true only in a few areas of the Northeast and that primarily is due to politics. In any event, those few areas are able to ship their garbage economically to places that compete aggressively for the business. If every US county devoted one square mile to landfills, it would be enough for 4,000 years. In recent years private companies have opened huge new landfills and prices are plummeting.
- Packaging is a problem Au contraire, packaging actually is a net environmental benefit. Packaging results in less waste and breakage; less advanced countries without modern packaging generate more waste. Mexico has fewer packaged goods but produces 33% more waste than a comparable American household. Egad, even McDonald’s is eco-friendly; it discards less than two ounces of waste per customer, less than eating at home.
- Natural resources (trees) are wasted Trees are a farmed product grown expressly for paper. It makes no more sense to conserve paper to save trees than it makes to conserve cloth to save cotton. Paper is natural, organic, biodegradable, renewable and sustainable. Working forests employ millions of Americans and help the environment by providing clean air and water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. There are more trees planted each year (40% more) than are consumed. There are more trees than 100 years ago. Failure to use paper can hasten the conversion of forests to strip malls and parking lots.
- Plastic is particularly evil Plastic doesn’t decay but neither do many biodegradable things in a landfill. Because plastic is so lightweight it uses less landfill space. Moreover, plastic is getting stronger, thinner and lighter all the time. Lightweight plastic requires less energy to manufacture and to transport; 12 plastic bags fit in the space of one paper bag. Plastic packaging reduces waste and thereby is eco-friendly. Learn to like it.
Most everything you thought you knew about recycling is wrong. Many times recycling is a waste of scarce resources and – when considering all the costs – likely harms the environment. You will know it is time to recycle when the marketplace deems it profitable – and not before.