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Recycling: Helpful & Harmful, But Not The Ultimate Answer

Aluminum Cans - USA-Focus.org

When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” (Jesus Christ, from The Message translation)

FOUNDING FATHERS’ PERSPECTIVE

“Waste not, want not.” (Benjamin Franklin)

“I recognize the right and duty of this generation to develop and use the natural resources of our land; but I do not recognize the right to waste them, or to rob, by wasteful use, the generations that come after us.” (Theodore Roosevelt, promulgator of the Founders’ principles)

FACTS

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” (John Adams)

◊ The modern recycling movement started in 1987, when a New York garbage barge called the Mobro 4000, looking for a place that would accept its load, was refused permission to dump by over a dozen East coast cities. Busch Recycling Systems, “Timelines of the History of Recycling”

◊ As the Mobro story spread throughout America, so did fearful tales about running out of landfill space and poisoning our planet.   These fears were exploited for personal gain by both businesses and politicians.  Laws were passed encouraging/demanding more recycling.  Little or no emphasis was placed on reducing the cause of the problem:  America’s out-of-control consumption of disposable items. Americans were taught to see recycling as almost a religiously patriotic obligation that would magically turn ALL our trash – no matter how much we produced – into new products, and leave our environment pristine. Objective, factual discussions about the benefits/drawbacks of recycling rarely occurred because of the strong emotions the issue evoked on both sides.
CATO Institute. Bandow, Doug. “Our Widespread Faith In Recycling Is Misplaced”

◊ Recycling can HELP the environment by reducing the pollution caused by mining/manufacturing raw materials. Recycling can HARM the environment because recycling plants also cause pollution.
All Recycling Facts.com.  “Environmental Benefits of Recycling”
Inquiries 2014. Morra, Kaycee. “Soil pollution from recycling centers: Case Study”
Planet Green Recycle, 4/9/15. “Recycling facts: Does recycling cause pollution?”

◊ Recycling can HELP the environment by conserving natural resources and energy. Recycling can HARM the environment because about half of tested recycled products used more energy and resources than making the same products with new materials.
All Recycling Facts.com.  “Environmental Benefits of Recycling”
Natural News, 5/20/11. Benson, Jonathan. “Recycling not always a energy and resource saver

◊ Recycling can HELP the environment by reducing the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Recycling can HARM the environment because plastic and glass are better off in landfills than being recycled, because the cost/resources used to recycle them exceeds the benefits.  All the trash created in the US in the next 1,000 years could fit into one landfill that was 100 yards deep (or tall?)  and 35 miles square (or a group of regional landfills that had that total capacity).
All Recycling Facts.com. “Environmental Benefits of Recycling”
New York Times,  6/30/96. Tierney, John. “Recycling is Garbage”
Here and Now, 10/14/15. “Economist says we need to re-think how we recycle”

◊ Recycling paper can HELP the environment because it saves energy, reduces pollution, preserves trees and conserves landfill space. Recycling paper can HARM the environment because it uses fossil fuel and produces toxic byproducts, neither of which occurs with virgin paper production. It decreases the amount of managed tree farms; and these tree farms have resulted in the US having 20% more trees growing today than it did 46 years ago on the first Earth Day.
American Forest and Paper Association – “Our Industry”
Livestrong.com “1/22/15 Bauer, Mary “The negative effects of recycling paper”

◊ Recycling  materials can HELP the economy by producing jobs, creating new businesses, and making money for communities who sell their recyclables to other countries. Recycling material can HARM the economy because lower prices on oil and commodities have dropped the price on recyclables below a profitable level. Rising labor costs have resulted in cities having to pay to have their recyclables hauled away, rather than selling them for a profit. Cities are losing money on recycling and find it less expensive to put their recyclables into landfills.
All Recycling Facts.com “Recycling benefits to the economy”
Washington Post, 6/20/15. Davis, Aaron. “American recycling is stalling, and the Big Blue Bin is one reason why”

SUMMARY

The US is only 5% of the world’s population, but generates 50% of the total amount of solid waste. Until this amount significantly declines, neither recycling nor landfills will be able to stop the economic and environmental damage resulting from this gluttonous over-consumption.   Recycling some items makes environmental and economic sense, but with many other items, it does not. Likewise, the issue with landfills is not, IS there enough room for all our trash (which there is), but rather, the negative effect on our national character and international image caused by burying – rather than confronting our costly, non-productive wastefulness. The Environmental Protection Agency clearly summarizes the solution: The most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place.

POSSIBLE SOLUTION

America could easily start reducing its wasteful living and over-consumption by committing to simple things.  Stop buying:  clothes we don’t wear, food we don’t eat, cars we don’t drive, paper we waste, one-use disposable items we throw-away, excessive packaging we don’t need, and break the habit of throwing away things that break down, rather than repairing them.  State and federal governments and our public education system need to  be leaders in re-educating America in this regard, and honestly re-introduce the issue of dealing with our garbage.  The stereotypical views of “all recycling is good” versus “dumping ANYthing in modern landfills is bad” need to be revised, because neither one is accurate.  The former needs to be less beatified, and the latter needs to be less demonized. But MOST importantly, the emphasis needs to be on living with a smaller consumption footprint, so that we increasingly have less need for either recycling OR landfills.
Brief #10 – July 7, 2016

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