Millennial History

By Steve Jackson

Recycling Myths?

This blog is largely a reprint of an article written by long-time libertarian and contrarian consumer advocate John Stossel who has hosted the TV show 20/20 as well as working for ABC,CBS and Fox News Network 

    For decades, we’ve been told: Recycle! Recycling paper and cardboard does save trees. Recycling aluminum does save energy. But that’s about it. “ If we’re not using recycled paper, we’re cutting down more trees!” says Lynn Hoffman, co-president of Eureka Recycling. The ugly truth is that many recyclables sent to recycling plants are never recycled. The worst is plastic, believe it or not. Even Greenpeace now says” Plastic recycling is a dead-end street.” Hoffman often trucks it to a landfill.

    Years ago, science writer John Tierney wrote a NY Times Magazine story entitled “ Recycling is Garbage.” It set a Times record for hate mail. But what he wrote was true.”It’s even more true today,” Tierney insists. “ Recycling is an industry that uses increasingly expensive labor to produce more materials that are worth less and less.” It is a classic example of the economic law of diminishing returns. It would be wiser to just dump our garbage into landfills.  

   People think landfills are horrible polluters. But they’re not. Regulations(occasionally, government regulations are actually useful) make sure today’s landfills have protective barriers so as to prevent leakage. Eventually, landfills are turned into good things: ski hills, parks and golf courses.  

    But aren’t we running out of landfill space? For years alarmist media said we were. Again, not true. In 1987, media gave lots of publicity to a garbage barge that left Long Island, NY and traveled thousands of miles trying and failing to find a place to dump its load. The barge wasn’t rejected due to a lack of space; the States rejected the barge after the hysterical media claimed that the garbage was” infectious waste” The Environmental Protection Agency conducted testing and the conclusion was normal garbage but the public relations damage had been done.  

      Landfills have plenty of room for normal garbage. In fact, America has more space then we will ever need. Sometimes states and businesses compete to accrue said garbage.”If you think of the United States as a football field,” says Tierney, “ all the garbage that we will generate in the next 1,000 years would fit inside a tiny fraction of the one-inch line.”  

    Putting garbage in landfills is often much cheaper than recycling. Stossel claims his home town would save 340 million dollars a year if it just STOPPED recycling. But it won’t, “because people demand it,” says Tierney, “It’s a sacrament of the green religion.”  

    The religion’s commandments are complex. NY City requires recyclables to be on the curb between 4pm and midnight. Plastic containers must be rinsed. Paper, metal, glass and plastic must all be separated. Paper must be tied with twine into bundles not to exceed 18 inches etc. “That’s one reason recycling fails,” says Tierney. “It’s too complicated with shifting rules.” Worse, some recycling is pointless or harmful.” If you rinse a plastic bottle in hot water,” Tierney points out, “ the net result is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than if you threw it in the garbage.” 

    Since most plastic can’t be recycled, what’s the solution? “ Stop producing it,” says Greenpeace’s John Hocevar. Many environmental groups now want to ban plastic. That’s just silly. Plastic is useful. Using it creates less emissions than its alternatives. Plastic bags create fewer than paper bags. A metal straw has to be used 150 times before it creates less pollution than a plastic straw. Environmental groups rarely mention that or how they misled us about recycling year in and year out for decades.

   Plastic usage is not perfect Marine life does ingest far too much of it but at the same time recycling is not the climate savior it was hyped to be back in the 1970’s. When Los Angeles mandated recycling, it added 400 large, noisy garbage trucks creating tons of air pollution, substituting one problem for another. 

   But environmentalists insist that we pick through and sort our garbage switching to paper bags which tear much more easily. California has banned small shampoo bottles.  

   “Some of these rules are just so silly and. arbitrary,” concludes Tierney. “It’s simply a way for the greens and for some politicians to pretend that they’re saving the planet.”



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