INEFFICIENT RECYCLING

Recycling programs are one of the biggest wastes of time and money as well as human and environmental resources.  These programs offer no substantial long-term benefits.  Even the short-term benefits go mainly to politicians, PR consultants, environmental organizations and waste-handling companies.  According to experts, recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America

The familiar recycling symbols (actually resin codes) like those below actually don’t indicate recyclability.                                                                                                                                        

THE PROBLEM

When the resin code (RIC) system launched in the late 1980s, it was solely intended as a guide for waste-sorters, not the public.

The main reason why the symbols are useless to consumers is chemistry.  As an example, high density polyethylene (HDPE), symbol no. 2, may be used to make various products.  Each of these “no. 2” products may use different chemicals to make HDPE as well as use different manufacturing processes. Factor in plastics with unknown properties made in other countries. Also factor in consumers who taint the plastics by not paying attention to the RICs, and any semblance of similarity between a batch of products with HDPE no. 2 is gone.  Recycling and then mixing/ melting together items with symbol two will result in an unusable plastic because the mix of products, even though all are listed under symbol 2, had different chemical recipes for HDPE, as well as different manufacturing processes.

NATIONAL GUILT

But American’s have embraced recycling after it was heavily promoted in the late 80s after the national garbage scandal of 1987. A barge with tons of Long Island trash traversed the oceans in search of a place to dump it.  This scandal had an outsized effect on the national conscience.  We suddenly felt that we should handle our own waste.  Recycling was one way to do that.

Marketers capitalized on the national guilt. Community messaging and commercial marketing created a national misconception that the RICs were a good way to group similar plastics so that they could be recycled.   The public was desperate for a feel-good solution and this fit the bill perfectly.  We could recycle most plastics and feel like we were doing our share to save the earth.

According to O Ecotextiles,

Recycling has been relentlessly promoted as a goal in and of itself: an unalloyed public good and private virtue that is indoctrinated in students from kindergarten through college.  As a result, otherwise well-informed and educated people have no idea of the relative costs and benefits.  

For instance, in New York City recycling a ton of trash costs $300 more than burying it. In NY that adds up to about half the budget of the NY Parks Dept.

Dr. Kinnaman, an expert on the subject, concludes that the process could be greatly improved by subsidizing the recycling of some metals, and by imposing a $15 tax on each ton of trash that goes into the landfill.

That tax would offset the environmental costs, chiefly the greenhouse impact, and allow each municipality to make a guilt-free choice based on local economics and its citizens’ wishes.

Despite decades of promotion by various groups, some trying to garner some green credentials, the RIC system failed because it was not meant for consumers in the first place. 

WHY IS RECYCLING STILL PUSHED?

Special-interest politics is one reason – pressure from green groups – but it’s also because recycling intuitively appeals to many voters: It makes people feel virtuous, especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprint.  It is less an ethical activity than a religious ritual, like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins.  Religious rituals don’t need any practical justification for the believers who perform them voluntarily.  But many recyclers want more than just the freedom to practice their religion.  They want to make these rituals mandatory for everyone else, too, with stiff fines for sinners who don’t sort properly.  Seattle has become so aggressive [in fining residents] that the city is being sued by residents who maintain that the inspectors rooting through their trash are violating their constitutional right to privacy.

But cities have been burying garbage for thousands of years, and it’s still the easiest and cheapest solution for trash.  The recycling movement is floundering, and its survival depends on continual subsidies, sermons and policing.  How can  you build a sustainable city with a strategy that can’t even sustain itself?

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

Spread the truth.  Find out what products are mandated to be recycled by local governments, collection companies or property managers.  They may very well give a system based on the RICs.  Unfortunately, until the system can be fixed, all we can do is continue to follow the rules given.

-Jim Byrd

Source: O Ecotextiles