Jan 4, 2009


Recycling. It's a daily affirmation we do. Many of us feel a sense of pride when tossing an item in the recycle container. We have just done our small part to save our struggling planet from the evils of garbage and pollution. We are encouraged, sometimes even required, to ensure that products listed as recyclable are disposed of properly to ensure the greater good.

But are what we doing really saving the planet? Could we actually be doing more harm than good?

The idea of recycling being unhealthy for the Earth sounds absurd. Still there are many who make that claim. I was introduced to this idea while watching an episode of Penn and Teller's B.S. which analyzed the industry and concluded that doing such an act is counter productive. It sounded a bit far fetched so I did a little research on the thesis. What I found is disturbing.

For the sake of time lets just use simple thinking about recycling an item, say one I do often, a bottle of beer. I consume said alcohol and place it into the proper blue container. The appropriate truck comes by and picks it up to deliver it to a plant to be processed and sanitized then sent back into the market.

Now think of the energy spent in recycling that one bottle. Since it can't be simply discarded we must send another truck to pick up the item. The fuel from which doubles the air pollution. When the bottle is driven to the plant it takes a workforce to use chemicals to clean it so that consumption can be safe. Then factor in how many people must drive or consume any amount of energy to get to work, to run the plant's power, to use water and other necessities that must be done to operate that function.

Now take into account that this is all done before it hits the consumer and taxpayer who bears the brunt of the cost. Simply recycling that bottle has done more damage to the world's environment than if I were to simply throw it away and let it sit in a modern landfill. Not a great alternative mind you, but one that mother earth may approve of better.

When I tell people about this they usually give me the thousand yard stare and say 'yeah but' and give any excuse to still throw their things into specially marked containers. Understandable actually. We want to do good and to think of an entire industry lying to us about a practice we consider safe and effective to be preposterous. This alone is a testaments to the character of many I know. A certainly noble trait to want to save the earth at all costs, if not naive. Some are even threatened with fines by their governments if they don't do the act.

Amazing how we as a people have such distrust for almost everything our elected leaders enact into law, yet when we are faced with the issue of recycling we automatically assume everyone is speaking with honesty and has the planet's best interests in mind. We don't believe they're driven by profit margins or corruption. We can't wrap our minds around the concept.

I'm not trying to dissuade people from recycling altogether. There are many household products that are energy efficient to reuse such as aluminum. Point is if you're truly interested in saving the your beloved planet there are many things you can do it by doing some research and applying the right principles. Or you can stop being such a rampant consumer, but how dare I suggest such blasphemy?

"My hobby of not attending meetings about recycling saves more energy than your hobby of recycling." - John McCarthy


Alec said...

How about we stop burying trash and destroying our water tables? Why don't we burn that trash and use the heat to generate electricity instead of burning coal & oil? We have to buy coal & oil in order to burn it and generate electricity. People will pay you to take their trash away. It's not that crazy of an idea... we used to do it back in the day.

mungsprout said...

Alot of cities have just one great big bin for all recycling and if there is food in any of it or it isnt cleaned a certain way, it goes to landfill anyways. So you may be getting your wish without even knowing it

Kelli said...

Mungsprout is exactly right. If you don't remove the lids and neck rings from plastic bottles they are not eligible for recycling. Most people don't read the rules for recycling either ... a pizza box cannot be recycled because it has grease on it ... therefore is landfill fodder.

As for using harsh chemicals to clean glass ... from what I have researched they melt the glass back to liquid, which removes any impurities, then they do whatever it is they do with it.

I agree with your bottom line though. We, as a society, need to being consumer gluttons. Buy what you need and need what you buy. It will save you a whole lot of money and the planet, all at the same time!

Kelli said...

* that was supposed to be "stop being consumer gluttons" ... darn the late night typing.

Anonymous said...

Why have any garbage handling facilities at all? Eliminate all garbage trucks and landfills by just throwing your crap out the window. And stop flushing too. Those sewer maintenance costs are all pretty high and inefficient.

JLee said...

I've often wondered about this. We had a story about a campaign here in Dallas called "Cease the Grease" where you're not supposed to put grease down the drain. Turns out, it cost more for the campaign than it would have for them to clear clogs due to grease!

Miss Ash said...

Hmm to be honest I had never really thought about it like that...however it makes much sense. My day is ruined *sniff*

Mattbear said...

I loved that episode of Bullshit. It was probably the most interesting to me.

Still, I recycle like a good little automaton. Mostly though it's because if I had to put all that stuff in the garbage, I'd have to pay for double the garbage service.