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Recycling–a waste of time?

October 4, 2015

Recycling: Reaction to John Tierney’s NY Times broadside on recycling. He’s right about one thing; its not effective.

John Tierney (NYT Oct 3, 2015) writes: “You probably recycle. You probably feel good about it. Are you wasting your time? It’s still costly and inefficient. So why do we keep doing it?” He gives the following perspective to frame his argument:

“But how much difference does it make? Here’s some perspective: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.”
 
I commented on Tierney’s Op-Ed (NYT Opinion Facebook). 
 …
My response: Though, Mr. Tierney’s column is more than a bit biased, he raises an interesting issue about the efficacy of recycling. He’s right. It’s not efficient and its costly. But his solution? Landfills. Sorry don’t agree.
 …
The real solution is a reformation of our approach to resources. 1. We consume far too much not to mention the monumental amounts of packaging. 2. What we consume doesn’t last very long. 3. Products are made without regard to efficiency of reuse or reconstruction or the environmental impact of their live cradle to grave life cycles. 
 …
In love with landfills: Mr. Tierney advocates  landfills as the solution.  He ignores the environmental and nuisance problems common to landfills (talk to those living around landfills, they’ll tell you they stink. Try having a barbecue when you’re downwind of a big municipal waste landfill. And his statements about the tiny, tiny amount of crop land that would be consumed by landfills–well landfills tend to be located where people have little power to stop them, for example traditional small scale farmers whose lives and communities depend up the land. Mr. Tierney should take a second look at the issue.
 …
Composting: Mr. Tierney’s attack on composting as smelly and verminous is totally unfounded. He is apparently oblivious to the advances that have been made even with the most challenging of materials, food wastes. Compost from food wastes is truly valuable and cost effective if done using modern systems.
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The real solutions?  Recycling is a step in the path to protecting the environment and natural resources, but it is not the first; first there is reduction and second reuse. We need to design products that are truly useful, that are built to last, that are safe for the environment, and that can be reused and recycled readily. Of course all of this is tied to an economic system that has little to do with real human need, and much to do with profit.
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One Comment leave one →
  1. Tim Kempson permalink
    October 4, 2015 2:06 pm

    Thanks Hank!
    I enjoyed your knowledgeable and skilled rebuttal. The Three R’s, and in correct order, is the way to go. Recycling is the final desperation in a world without landfills. The idea that we can continue to turn resources into waste is not sustainable.
    Truly,
    Timmy

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