To Recycle or Not to Recycle

That is the question. After I did my research about the landfills, I had to wonder. I found it interesting that we were going to all this trouble with the consequence of permanently destroying our planet and recycling still isn’t the favorable option. How is recycling not less damaging than all the work it takes to build a landfill? Why not? Other than people’s laziness or ignorance (which could be easily fixed by making it mandatory. I’m not usually for government regulations, but if we’re going to have all these ridiculous regulations then we might as well do something good for the environment) what is the problem? Why aren’t city governments pushing it more? Why isn’t recycling mandatory? I don’t know, so I went to find out.

The words above were my mission. I wrote them before I researched anything. So did I accomplish what I set out to do?  Sort of, kind of, but not really.

” The American recycling movement began in 1987, when a barge called the Mobro 4000 traveled from New York to Belize, trying futility to unload its trash. The barge left from Islip, Long Island with over 3,100 tons of garbage, bound for North Carolina. But rumors that the garbage contained medical waste caused the destination city to reject delivery. So Mobro continued south, only to be rejected by the Mexican Navy and by Belize. The barge turned around and came back to New York. The garbage was finally incinerated in Brooklyn.

The media coverage had a lasting impact on American society. Media and environmentalists cited the incident as proof of an American waste disposal crisis. The incident triggered a national discussion about public waste disposal, leading many to believe that recycling was the only option left. In May 1987, then-New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean signed a law requiring the separation of recyclables from trash. By 1999, over 4,000 communities had begun charging households to cart away their trash. The nation’s recycling rate rose to 22 percent that year, from 10 percent in 1980.”

With that being said, I read a bunch of articles ranting about why certain people hate recycling. It seemed to be a starting theme of the mid-1990s. The problem is that you can find research to support just about anything. This is the most frustrating thing I’ve learned during my time of doing this. This rebuttal article had some good truths in it, but it was written in 1995, so I do believe that his argument may have been true for then, but the recycling ‘industry’ has evolved and is much more efficient. I think that his argument could be a little outdated.  And also to point out that a lot has changed in the last 17 years. We have a long history as the ‘throwaway society’, but there is much more to be thrown away now and different things that are being thrown away, electronics for one. This article helped with why it’s not the favorable option which kind of helps answer the question of why it isn’t profitable, but some of what they said didn’t really strike me as real problems just obstacles

I’ve been looking around for a while, but I haven’t been able to find enough information to become totally comfortable with my knowledge on the recycling process, so I’m not going to make too many arguments with what he said, but here is his article if you want to check it out.

Some reoccurring arguments are:

Transportation costs. When trash trucks come to each house, it takes all the trash and takes it all to one place. For curb side recycling, I’m guessing, a truck of some sort comes and picks up all the recycling, takes it to a processing center, and then takes individual dumpsters go to different places. Yeah, that seems like a little extra, but I think it’s worth a little extra.

‘there is no shortage of landfill space now so why does it matter?’ Here are the exact words “And since there’s no shortage of landfill space (the crisis of 1987 was a false alarm), there’s no reason to make recycling a legal or moral imperative. Mandatory recycling programs aren’t good for posterity. They offer mainly short-term benefits to a few groups-politicians, public relations consultants, environmental organizations, waste-handling corporations-while diverting money from genuine social and environmental problems. Recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America: a waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources.”  This article also has some stats on how much land is really used. Who knows if it’s true or not, but people show know both arguments so there it is.

I can’t decide if I should laugh or cry. If we knew, for sure, that we were going to run out of air wouldn’t we do everything we possibly could to stop that from happening? If we knew for sure that we or future generations would meet their demise because of our selfishness and ‘laziness’, that it wasn’t just if but when, wouldn’t we want to keep that from happening for as long as possible? Trash isn’t something that kills instantly, but it does kill and even if it didn’t, why would someone want to push the mess that they made on to someone else? It would be awful to have to live buried up to my eyeballs in other people’s junk and waste. I must also argue that the waste management system in general is the most wasteful activity in modern America. Recycling is part of waste management that is why it is wasteful.

Costs in general. The cost of recycling is somewhat of a problem. Sometimes more in certain cities, sometimes less, depending on how much is recycled, method it’s recycled, man power needed, real estate costs, land costs (for landfills), transportation costs, proximity to landfills or recycle centers, etc. In regards to this issue, I’ll start by saying every waste management program has different issues. The more people recycle, the more the program pays for itself. If governments implemented a policy where people who recycled had to pay less waste management fees, the more they recycled the less they had to pay, and the people who didn’t recycle at all had to carry the extra costs, then I’d bet a lot more people would be recycling. If all the trash went into the same truck to the same building, whether it had separate compartments or people sorted it later then that would take care of parts of the logistics problems. The manpower needed to do the sorting would add to the manpower problem, but last time I checked jobs were a good thing, even it seems like the worst job ever. And if nothing else then the prisoners or forced community service people could do it. There are plenty of those and it may even motivate people to keep from coming back from prison. Recycling will always be more expensive if the cost of dumping in the landfill or the land itself is cheap. It’s easy to fix that. Just increase the cost of land. Problem solved. I read an article about New York and they cut plastic and glass from their recycling program. It was supposed to cut costs and it did until the price of land went up then it was cheaper to just recycle it.

All my solutions may be stupid, I don’t know because I can’t find the information I need to see why or why these programs won’t or don’t work. They’re just thoughts.

The last argument is that it’s not profitable. I kind of touched on this in various places, but I wonder how this is even an argument. Putting all junk in the landfills isn’t profitable either. Recycling may or may not be profitable financially, but it’s a long term investment. It costs either way, so what difference does how we do it make? It balances itself out to some extent.

The benefits of recycling are pretty straight forward. Greenhouse emissions are reduced, energy needs are reduced and saves natural resources. Even if we’re not running out, (I think running out is a relative term) why waste these things or create a problem where there doesn’t have to be one.

I did find some FAQ for cities or institutions that have mandatory recycling. They made me happy, I’m not going to lie. They weren’t worried about making friends, they cared about doing what was right and that was that. They support some of my conclusions and they use what seems like common sense.

What if I don’t have room for recycling?

In some cases it will replace trash needs and new space will not be needed. If your property is small and does not have enough dumpster space to spare, smaller recycling carts can be added.

What is the penalty for violating La Mesa’s mandatory recycling ordinance?

Violation of the ordinance is considered an infraction and can result in a citation and fine of up to $250 per day of the infraction.

How does La Mesa’s mandatory recycling ordinance impact my home or business?

Multi-family residential and commercial properties and businesses that are not currently recycling must do so within the timeframe specified. EDCO is La Mesa’s permitted hauler and although the service does have a cost, some may see their bills decrease by as much as 30% due to decreased trash service needs.

Straightforward. Recycle or pay the penalty. Simply Awesome, right? I thought so too.

Then I found this article titled “Is Recycling Worth It?”

It states, “Recycling is sustainable as long as it makes profit. The more materials a facility collects and sorts, the less it costs to sort each pound.”

Which makes sense. I mean after a certain point, if it’s running the city into the ground then yeah, maybe we should think of something else, but it’s not all about the money which is hard to argue if people are denying that its harmful for the environment.

They go on to say that recycling is a fraud and a waste of time.

“But Duke University Professor Michael Munger cites the requirement for cleaning and sorting as a reason why recycling is a waste of time. In fact, Munger compares recycling to religion. He gives an example of a woman who once told him, “Recycling is cheaper regardless of the cost.” Munger calls that a moral imperative, something you do out of compulsion rather than economic sense. He references Raleigh, South Carolina, where recycling facilities collect glass, but then take it to a landfill. “There was a political demand for glass,” says Munger. “Everybody knows it’s not economical to recycle glass but we want people to get into the habit.” Munger has written papers and given talks about recycling as a fraud. His underlying statement makes sense: “The point is, you should recycle things you can make money from recycling.”

That’s a little harsh if you ask me, but who am I to argue with a Duke University Professor. I think there is more to it than money and that’s the point that most critics are missing.

They go on to talk about upcycling and how that is a better solution because it’s ‘profitable’. It was cool to see that side of it.

Then they say:

Last June, the local government of San Francisco passed a law mandating both recycling and composting—with the failure to observe punishable by a minimum $100 fine, which increases with repeat offenses. In Seattle, sanitation workers enforce the mandatory recycling law. They tag unsorted trash and leave it behind, and until the waste is properly sorted, it remains on the curb for neighbors to see. Shame is a useful tactic, Brett Stav, a planning and development specialist for Seattle Public Utilities, told The New York Times; by 2009 recycling had improved by 10 percent since the program was implemented in 2003.

Despite all the con arguments that are within the article, the bottom line was to say that due to inefficiencies of 20 years ago, recycling was not always practical. Technologies and manufacturing processes have developed to efficiently handle the supply of recyclable materials. The demand for recyclables has gone up, the cost of processing them has gone down, and ‘the need for minimizing our environmental impact has heightened.’ So yes, this article seems to think recycling is ‘worth it.’

So this is what I found. The same arguments just said a different way. Reducing and Reusing should be the first steps and really they’re the easiest, but I think recycling is better than nothing. It wasn’t as detailed as I had hoped, but hopefully I have given you the basics of both sides, so that you can make your own decision. Below are some links to various sites that talk about why or why not some governments recycle, so can check them out.


One response to “To Recycle or Not to Recycle

  1. Pingback: To Recycle or to not Recycle « serendipitousscavenger |

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