Love it or hate it: Recycling

by Patty Templeton

Love itSome years back, I read “Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash.” The book talked about how much waste Americans make and how this was a relatively new phenomenon. For example, in olden times, when a shirt wore out, you cut it into rags and then you used the rags until they disintegrated. You didn’t throw away the shirt as landfill fodder or send it to Goodwill, which then has a chance to ship it overseas where it could become landfill fodder in India.

The book was hella dense, but a wake-up call. I was being an a-hole. Up until that point, I didn’t really consider the Earth, at all, in my purchases and only minimally thought about recycling. I’m not saying I’m now Queen Trash of Recyclesville, but I’m more aware and try to do my part.

The average person makes 4 pounds of trash a day and 1.5 tons of solid waste a year. The EPA estimates that 75 percent of Americans’ waste can be recycled, and yet we only recycle 30 percent of it. Not cool, dudes. I don’t wanna live like that. I wanna try a little harder.

— Patty TempletonHate itIt’s almost dogma, right? What red-blooded progressive could even begin to form the thought that recycling is anything but the easiest and purest way to protect the environment and save the Earth, one plastic bottle at a time? Why waste new resources when perfectly reusable materials are right here. Open and shut. Done deal. No argument. Recycling is a no-brainer. And that’s the problem. That’s what I hate.

Recycling isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. The effectiveness and environmental impact depends on the material being recycled. For instance, making cans from recycled aluminum requires 96 percent less energy, while recycled glass uses 21 percent less energy, according to an article in “Popular Mechanics.” This does not include the water we use to rinse our recyclables, and the time and energy expended throughout the entire process.

The biggest reason I hate recycling dogma is that it provides cover for counterproductive behavior. Like someone who reasons to eat three donuts because they went on a hike, the intent of recycling can help us justify behavior, like buying water in a plastic bottle instead of using our own reusable container. Or instead of buying a used car, even with higher emissions, we reason that buying a new electric car is automatically better despite the energy it consumes up front to make.

There are three “Rs” in this equation: Reduce, reuse, recycle. The first two seem way more straightforward. The third is more complicated than filling the bin under your sink and forgetting about it.

David Holub


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