Recycling debate short on reason

Responses to a news story on recycling indicate that the issue is driven more by emotion and misinformation than reason.

Children recycling

Recently I was interviewed by Carla Eckels of KMUW radio for a story titled Recycling: Is It Really Necessary? (Audio is available at that link.)

The story was based on my research and opinion that in some cases, recycling is an economically beneficial activity. But for the household setting, it is not.

(One point I meant to make, but forgot to, was that how wonderful it is that we have enough wealth that we don’t have to recycle household waste. We are free to recycle if we want, but also free to make a personal decision to spend time on activities other than recycling.)

Comments left to the story illustrate just how difficult it is to think about and debate issues of public policy. Here’s one example:

It takes absolutely no extra water to rinse cans for recycling. Just rinse them in your dishwater after washing your last dish. After all, if one is truly concerned about water conservation, handwashing uses less water than a dishwasher. As for the abundant landfill space, I suggest we open a landfill in Mr. Weeks’ backyard. Most people would object to a landfill next door, but apparently Mr. Weeks would welcome it.

This writer has a good idea — if you want to wash dishes by hand. For me, a dishwashing machine is a sign of tremendous progress by civilization, reducing drudgery and producing cleaner dishes. And, it’s a machine that nearly everyone can afford.

After that, the writer makes a ridiculous argument about landfill space. I note that this writer uses a profile name that is anonymous. While anonymous speech is important, it leads to people making patently ridiculous statements that they probably wouldn’t make if their friends and neighbors knew they said that.

Here’s another comment:

I would have to disagree with Mr Weeks. The benefits far outweigh the “costs” he was mentioning. It only take a moment to look up evidence that recycling is not only beneficial for our planet but also as a business model. Single stream recycling has made this process very easy.

A point I made in the article is that households have to pay for people to collect their recyclables. Using scare quotes around “costs” is inappropriate, as the costs are real and large. This is a clue as to the economic value of recycling, which is that it works in certain instances, but not for households.

Part of another comment is this:

And Mr. Weeks’ comments this morning on the air regarding having plenty of landfill space in places like Kansas just made me angry. Landfills the size of Sedgwick County? —- Seriously.

In the article, I mentioned that someone calculated that a landfill 100 yards tall and 30 miles on a side could hold all trash for the entire country for the next 1,000 years. How someone makes a leap from that to multiple landfills the size of Sedgwick County shows that people just aren’t thinking closely.


3 thoughts on “Recycling debate short on reason”

  1. I know of a low-middle income, elderly neighborhood in Valley Center. Before mandatory trash service came to be, 3 widows and one 80′s year old couple shared a trash service. The lone male would gather the recyclables, and once a week, when he drove his gas powered vehicle to the grocery store, he would place the recycle in the bin provided at Leekers food store. The one non-recycle bin that the four shared, was never overflowing on the weekly basis. Once the Mayor (he broke the tie) and Valley Center city council said “Every house MUST have a trash service”, and “we are going to tell you the one company you can pay for” the 4 households now have another $22 a month to pay on their fixed incomes. This was a free will example of recycling, with a twist of government control and franchising. In the 1960′s the Democrats were saying,”Get the Government out of our lives”, now, the Reps., are saying exactly the same thing. Both are correct.

  2. While our 3 children were in middle and high school we lined our garage walls with various recycling bins and paid a company run by 2 women”Earth Angels “was the name , I believe, to pick up monthly.. Nevertheless we did this for a couple of years until I found out that our recycling was taken straight to the landfill as there was “no market for the recycling goods”!!!
    Now I am just careful what I buy

  3. Conversations about recycling tend to take on the kind of fervor that religious ones do – you are “bad” if you don’t recycle, and “good” if you do. We don’t. We are frugal folk who watch our pennies (generally out of necessity) and paying for recyclable items to be collected or paying extra for items made from recycled products doesn’t fit into our budget. Nor, however, do a lot of items that recycling households purchase. For instance, when our three children were babies I used cloth diapers which I laundered myself. Disposables were for vacations only, as they were the more expensive option. If I don’t make character judgements about people who choose to use disposable diapers, I’d appreciate if they would refrain from making judgements about me for not recycling.

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