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The utter waste of recycling

By Alan Caruba
web posted July 12, 2004

People are recycling less. In my home State of New Jersey the recycling rate for household garbage dropped for the fifth straight year in 2002, hitting 34 per cent according to the most recent statistics available. Nationwide, it’s the same. The national average dropped to 27 per cent in 2002, the most recent year for such data.

According to BioCycle Magazine and Columbia University’s Earth Engineering Center, that is the lowest it has been since 1995.

The justification for recycling is that it permits the reuse of things like paper, glass, aluminum and plastic. What you’re not told is that it takes as much or more energy to recycle these things and can be more costly than to just do with them what mankind has done with garbage since it began building up in the caves.

Garbage has either been buried or burned. This is the most practical way to deal with it. Once a landfill has become full, it is covered over with a layer of dirt and becomes property that can be converted to some other use such as a golf course.

There are less obvious costs involved with recycling programs. Since paper, glass and plastic in my hometown cannot be put into the same truck that means the town has to pay crews of men to man the trucks for each. Those men draw salaries and other benefits. There are all kinds of insurance costs. The trucks cost money and must be maintained. In addition, they all burn gas as they start and stop repeatedly, adding to the cost and producing the greenhouse gases that recycling is supposed to reduce.

Then the recyclables have to be taken to recycling centers or, not infrequently, to landfills or incinerators. Where, of course, they become just plain old garbage again.

Recycling advocates say the reason for the decline is that the need to recycle, debatable at best, no longer gets the kind of attention it used to when it was fashionable to shame everyone into thinking they were “saving the environment” by separating their paper, glass, plastic and aluminum.

After awhile people began to wonder whether, in fact, it was necessary and with good reason. Glass, for example, is made from sand. The world is not running out of sand.

Paper is made from trees and we are not running out of trees either, unless you count the ones destroyed by catastrophic forest fires that usually result from bad state and federal forest management. There is still 70 per cent of the forestland that was here in 1600 when the Pilgrims arrived. Annually, more than 1.5 billion trees are planted in the US, more than five trees for every man, woman and child and, of those, more than 80 per cent are planted by forest product companies and private timberland owners. The rest are planted by federal and state agencies, and individuals.

As for aluminum, the Aluminum Institute says that plastic is crowding out higher-value aluminum cans in recycling bins, making the whole process of recycling less efficient. Many states have stopped mandating buy-back programs for empty cans and bottles. The recycling rate for aluminum hit 50 per cent in 2002, its lowest point in a decade.

Similarly, the number of curbside collection programs nationally, which reached a high of about 9,700 between 1988 and 2000, fell to 8,875 by 2003 according to data provided by the Environmental Protection Agency. After 9-11 when New York City was hard hit by the devastation, entire recyclable collection programs were stopped in order to save the millions they cost.

It took a federal court decision to deregulate the hauling of trash out of my home state when it became apparent it was cheaper to ship it to landfills in Pennsylvania. Expensive incinerators that had been built on the premise that the garbage to be hauled to them would be required by law suddenly became a loss for those who invested in the bonds that underwrote their construction. When the market is allowed to function, less costly, more rational rules assert themselves.

Recycling is a waste of time, of financial resources, manpower, and is one more fraud perpetrated on people to further the myths of environmentalism. Bit by bit, they will be abandoned in the same fashion that so many other environmental programs will be when proven to be the same hot air as global warming.

Alan Caruba writes a weekly commentary, “Warning Signs”, posted on www.anxietycenter.com, the website of The National Anxiety Center. © Alan Caruba 2004

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