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The utter waste of recycling

By Alan Caruba
web posted January 20, 2003

Twice a month I have to bundle my newspapers and take boxes with glass and plastic items down to the curb to be removed and, one assumes, recycled. This does not include the two other pickups for what is presumably just plain old garbage. I am old enough to remember when a person just threw all of this stuff into the garbage can to be taken away. It involved two less trips and a smaller bill from the "waste management" company.

Ask yourself about the utility of recycling. Glass is made from sand. The Earth is not running out of sand. Newspapers, when buried, stay intact for decades and, when burned, become mere ashes. Recycling plastic requires as much or more energy than to produce it. Its uses, however, are extraordinary, contributing to a healthier lifestyle for everyone. So, why recycle?

Recycling boxesIn 1998, it cost Americans $36 billion to get rid of 210 million tons of municipal waste. It probably costs more today. Part of that multi-billion cost is the additional element of recycling requirements. It's not like you have a choice. New York City publishes a brochure on recycling that says bluntly "It's the law."

There is no question that Americans produce a lot of garbage. In the past we buried or burned it, but that was before the environmentalists, Greens, began a campaign that would have us believe there was no room left for landfills, that landfills were inherently a "hazard", and that incinerators were no better because of what came out of the smokestack. All of a sudden, it became very costly to get rid of the garbage where, before, it was no big deal.

The result of the Green lies about garbage was the closing of thousands of landfills around the nation and the increased difficulty of opening new ones. One effort in New Jersey to build a new incinerator ended up a financial nightmare for investors when the courts ruled that haulers could not be compelled by law to bring the garbage to the incinerator, especially if it was cheaper to dump it somewhere else.

The problem is not that we have more garbage. The problem is we have fewer places to bury and burn it. For that you can thank the Greens. This is something to think about every time you separate your glass and plastic or bundle your newspapers, You may feel you are doing something noble for the environment, but you are paying more for that privilege and the odds are the stuff is being buried and burned just the same. The market for anything recycled often proves unprofitable because the cost of recycling does not justify itself.

One scholar, A. Clark Wiseman of Spokane's Gonzaga University, calculated that, at the current rate of solid waste generation, the nation's entire solid waste for the next 1,000 years could be buried in a single landfill 100 yards high and 35 miles square. We are not running out of land for landfills. We have run into the lie that they are unsafe. The truth is that landfills have been routinely converted into valuable property once filled. In California there are a number of golf courses that were former landfills. In New Jersey, there are malls and corporate campuses.

In July of last year, New York City suspended the collection of plastic and beverage cartons for a year and the collection of glass for two years. Said the Mayor, "This temporary suspension will save the City an estimated $40 million." Now do the math. If New York can save $40 million by not requiring recycling, imagine the billions that could be saved by cities and suburbs coast to coast? You could renovate every school in America with those funds.

In the end, if recycling was cost-efficient why is it necessary to pass laws to force people to separate and bundle stuff that could just as easily be tossed out with the rest of the garbage? That's how environmentalism works. It creates a Big Lie and then sets about getting laws passed to mandate it. Years later, states, cities, communities, and just ordinary people begin to ask, "Why are we doing this?" and the answer is, "It's the law."

It wasn't always the law. There was a time when landfills were understood to be a perfectly sensible way to get rid of the garbage. Incinerators, too. But that was before the Greens decided recycling was a dandy way to make everyone think that throwing out the garbage was yet another "hazard", "danger", and "threat" to Mother Earth. To which I say, "That's just garbage!"

Alan Caruba writes a weekly column, "Warning Signs", posted on the website of The National Anxiety Center. In February, Merril Press will publish a collection of his recent, best columns. © Alan Caruba, 2003

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