Did you catch the recent guest commentary in The Bulletin, “Recycling, Is it Worth It?” “The Reign of Recycling“, a New York Times opinion piece by John Tierney, and published in local papers all over the country, was basically an argument against recycling, claiming it’s better to just landfill everything. As I was reading this article, many of his points struck me as inaccurate or one sided, particularly this one:
“The environmental benefit of recycling comes chiefly from reducing the need to manufacture new products – less mining, drilling and logging. But that’s not so appealing to the workers in those industries and to the communities that have accepted the environmental trade offs that come with those jobs.”
That’s it. That’s all he has to say about the chief environmental benefit of recycling. To that statement, we should not dismiss the biggest environmental benefit of recycling (reducing the need to acquire virgin raw material, which has documented environmental and health impacts including air and water pollution) for the argument that it provides jobs. The recycling industry also provides jobs. Just because something provides jobs does not mean we should keep doing it. True, we might not ever run out of landfill space (though transporting our trash from urban to rural areas is not a benign impact) but eventually, we will run out of virgin mined non-renewable resources, or ruin our available freshwater or fresh air, making our world uninhabitable – whichever comes first!
Now 2 weeks after the article was published I see I wasn’t alone in feeling like his article was off base. Treehugger responded with “Idiocracy in the New York Times: John Tierney on recycling”, and Grist’s article “Is recycling as awful as the New York Times claims? Not remotely.” takes a stab at 5 of his main points, including the one I took fault with above.
I also love this visual fact check, where you can both read the article and see the red-inked comments on the margins to point out fact checking inaccuracies from the organization Closed Loop.
Yes recycling has a cost -everything does – but it is still a necessity to deal with our ever increasing amount of waste in our current disposable society. For the last 20+ years, our trend here in Oregon – and in particular Deschutes County – has been to increase the percent of our waste that gets composted or recycled. That’s great, we’re recovering more. However, the actual amount in tonnages also increases every year. Meaning we just have more stuff that we bring to the curb, year after year. So yes, it’s great that we are recycling more of that, but the bigger call to action – the tougher one – is to not create so much waste in the first place. And that, is really where we makes the biggest impact.