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The folly of recycling

New web portal LibertarianHome has a video of a brilliant American TV show called Bullshit! which demolishes the case for recycling. But, says the portal:

Despite the compelling evidence against recycling, Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth wants everyone to be forced to recycle. He attacks support for “the personal freedoms of citizens… this is a basic value that will need to be reviewed.”

Green on the outside, red on the inside.

29 comments to The folly of recycling

  • Johnathan Pearce

    These people are psychologically disturbed. I am serious. They need professional help.

  • Alfred E. Neuman

    Bullshit! is Penn and Teller’s show and airs on Showtime, but you can get episodes on DVD (I have Showtime almost solely for this show). I highly recommend it. They are 100% libertarian, intelligent, and funny. Some of the episodes are really great, some less so. The PETA, environmentalism, and drug war episodes are absolutely fantastic.

  • The great tragedy is that recycling is by and large actually bad for the environment, not merely useless. I thoroughly endorse this episode of Bullshit.

  • Green on the outside, red on the inside.

    Watermelons!

  • Wyrd

    * According to the BS episode, recycling aluminum cans is useful.

    * supposing that Recycling is bad, what about Reduce and Reuse? Are these bad as well?

  • guy herbert

    Recycling, per se, is not bad. Nor is it good. It is morally neutral. We’ve always done it when it was worthwhile, and would probably do more of it if less constrained by regulation of the processes involved.

    Government-mandated “recycling” – where officials decide what will be done with refuse on the basis of arbitrary targets and decades-old models of ecological efficiency is not remotely the same thing as sensible reuse, repair and reconditioning of materials. It is almost universally bad – only coinciding with the right thing to do for the cost-effective improvement of the human environment by accident. It shouldn’t be called ‘recycling’. I propose a different name: ‘G-recycling’, say, short for ‘Government-recycling’.

    Likewise the thing called “recycling” in green theology – where everything must be reused in ways that conform to batty theories of moral economy (if it may be used at all) is almost universally bad – only coinciding with the right thing to do for the cost-effective improvement of the human environment by accident. It shouldn’t be called ‘recycling’. I propose a different name: ‘G-recycling’, say, for ‘Greenoid-recycling’.

    It may be objected that using the terms ‘G-recycling’ and ‘G-recycling’ for these two phenomena is still confusing. But I sincerely doubt that bureacrats or greens will object. Both are strong practitioners of that fictional reification where a thing is deemed to have all the qualities attributed to an ideal theoretical constructis because it shares a name. Both already insist that the “recycling” they sustain is both the proper understanding of the one pusued by the other and everyone else’s obligation.

  • Manuel II Paleologos

    Re-cycle glass, before the world runs out of sand!

    You will regret it when your grandchildren can’t play on beaches any more.

  • When it costs more to recycle than to landfill (and it almost always does), then by definition it is wasteful and counterproductive. That’s basic economics.

  • napkin ankle

    Landfill? No, incineration in local CHP power plants, not only can you use the latent energy of the ‘waste’ it is easier to trap (the byproducts of incinerated) pollutants that would leach into landfill environs (which so worries the watermelons).

  • llamas

    I once did some (contract) work for the man who invented the automated beverage-can recycling machine.

    He knew from the get-go that can recycling was not economically-viable – at the time. That’s why his machines were designed with other incentives – he even had one version which was a combined can-recycling-and-gambling machine, for those states that allowed it – the premiums you got for recycling cans could be used as a stake for a slot-machine-type wager. This made it economically-viable.

    His products didn’t take off until the advances in metallurgy and can-making technology brought us the modern deep-drawn structural aluminum beverage can, whose metal content is valuable enough to make recycling it economically-viable.

    As Penn and Teller so-succinctly state in the video, if plastic or glass bottles had enough value to make their recycling viable, then you’d see people policing them up off the side of the road – as you do with aluminum cans.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Did anyone read the linked article? The way these people brainwash 8-year-old kids makes me sick. This exchange took place in a science class, ffs!

    “Why can’t we keep throwing out garbage that way?” Dittersdorf asked.

    “It’ll keep piling up and we won’t have any place to put it.”

    “The earth would be called the Trash Can.”

    “The garbage will soon, like, take over the whole world and, like, kill everybody.”

    Dittersdorf asked the children to examine their lives. “Does anyone here ever have takeout food?” A few students confessed, and Dittersdorf gently scolded them. “A lot of garbage there.”

  • RAB

    Well I cant get the link to Bullshit for some reason,
    but I did read the article and found it very scary how fascistically certain those teachers were in their own rightiousness!
    When I was a lad Clarks the Pop used to turn up in a van once a week, knock on your door and offer for sale, Pop (what Americans call Soda) Coca Cola was almost unheard of back then (the 50s).
    We used to buy 2 lemonades, a Dandilion and Burdock and an Ice Cream Soda. These came in large glass bottles with rubber bungs and when they came back next week, you handed back the empties, collected the 2p for returning the bottle, and carried on. That seems to me , an eminently sensible way of recycleing (or at least using the resourse more efficiently.This was continuing in places like Sri Lanka, when I visited recently.
    Alas the rise of Tetrapak and the Elf n Safety industry seems to have put pay to all that.

  • Nick M

    napkin ankle,
    You are very right for someone with such a strange moniker. The problem is that people get very NIMBY about incinerators.

    Overall, I’m glad someone (whoever the hell the Samizdata Illuminatus are) brought this up. Recycling or reusing are worthwhile up to a point. I’ve always (even back in my soft-left days) thought that the market should determine what was worth recycling. As a kid, we had milk delivered in re-used bottles and when we got a bottle of pop there was a “deposit” on the bottle. These I’m sure were ideas mandated by economic constraints, not by environmental evangalism. Alas, they are no longer commonplace.

    I fix computers. I have to throw things out. Sometimes I have to throw out a complete system unit. Maybe there are parts which might still work and in theory could be re-used but it is not worth my while to find out. What would you pay for a 2Meg PCI graphics card? Exactly. As far as recycling goes for these things… Well there are pennies worth of copper (I’m being optimistic here) but quite how it would be economically viable to recover it is beyond me. Perhaps it could be landfilled with some GM bacteria that leach out metals selectively and the recovered at a later date but no, the greenies don’t like GM…

    So bugger them. I’ll keep on binning this stuff and Manchester City Council will keep on land-filling it. I’m sure they only do it because they know that the alternative would be fly-tipping on a grand-scale.

  • D. M. Depew

    God, that is soooooo *depressing.*

    Everyone I know sorts trash. My own father got really into environmentalism specifically because of that barge back in the eighties. This belief is SO pervasive that I can imagine losing friends by trying to tell them that they’re *wrong* to recycle!

    The incompetent EPA bureaucrat, J. Winston Porter, should be flogged, water-boarded, and then flogged some more. The guy’s an Eichmann, an evil so vanilla . . . so bland, that no deserved contempt or anger for his crimes feel justifiable, and he leaves me with nothing but a cold feeling of dread.

    The horror of his impotent power . . .

    The horror of it.

  • Jack Olson

    The largest single ingredient in U.S. landfills (can’t answer for elsewhere) isn’t food and beverage containers. It’s demolition and construction debris. Some structural metal does get recycled, especially if it is a costly material like copper. Some does get re-used, such as some types of bricks. And, you can find re-used lumber although it is useful only for limited purposes like concrete forms.

    Unfortunately, many building materials such as concrete have few re-uses and are even less susceptible to recycling. The environmental principle of recycling could be made much more practical if the environmentalists could find ways to recycle or re-use building materials since more of that goes into landfills than food containers.

  • llamas

    Jack Olson wrote:

    ‘Unfortunately, many building materials such as concrete have few re-uses and are even less susceptible to recycling. ”

    Huh?

    Concrete gets recycled around here, oh, my word. As long as it’s in a decent quantity, there are contractors who will come and get it and haul it away for you, for nuthin’. Gets crushed and used as roadbed. CMU’s, same way – if you want a CMU building removed, strip it down to the walls, then call any one of a number of contractors whose names end in vowels, they’ll come and push it over, load it all into big trucks and haul it away to be re-used.

    When the I275 freeway West of Detroit was rebuilt from the dirt up, 2 or 3 years ago, all of the concrete of the original 6 lanes of highway – 10 miles or more of it- was ripped up, transported to a crusher right on the jobsite (it was in the 6-Mile Road cloverleaf), crushed down, and put right back down as the bottom layer of the roadbed. Beats the heck out of hauling away a half-a-million yards of concrete and then hauling in another half-a-million yards of new stone.

    llater,

    llamas

  • debbie

    The Bullshit episode on 9-11 conspiracy is a good one, too.

  • Sunfish

    These came in large glass bottles with rubber bungs and when they came back next week, you handed back the empties, collected the 2p for returning the bottle, and carried on. That seems to me , an eminently sensible way of recycleing (or at least using the resourse more efficiently.This was continuing in places like Sri Lanka, when I visited recently.

    When I was in Ecuador, I’d stop in the tiendas for a coke. The way it works is, you can leave the seller a thousand sucres (about 50 cents US at the time) as deposit and take the bottle with you, or you can just buy the pop and have it poured into a plastic bag to take. The reason was, the bottle actually is worth about that much to the seller, and certainly more than the coke inside.

    The problem with doing that here is some bizarre rule that states that, once a food container is reclaimed and recycled, it’s somehow ‘tainted’ and can’t be re-used for food use. That’s why, when PET pop bottles are recycled, they’re typically used to make plastic pretend lumber which I’ve only seen used for outdoor furniture.

    There is a bottle-deposit system in a few states. In Michigan, IIRC, every can or bottle of any carbonated beverage carries a ten cent deposit to encourage recycling. This in a world where aluminum recycling will pay for itself and PET bottle recycling may be more harmful for the environment than throwing it out the window.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    Don’t forget the other type of environmentalists, the ones who are green on the outside and yellow on the inside. They’re watermelons too.

  • gravid

    Gee, Penn and Teller are funny and since it is on Teevee it must be true.

  • €uro

    Penn and Teller make assumptions that are simply outrageous. Watch what they have to say about “near death experiences” and you will understand that they are nearly as superficial as the rest of the bunch. How do they know about all that stuff they claim to know about?!
    (tell me cause I’d like to know)

  • RAB

    Duh, their comedians Euro!
    And with a handle like that
    Ve vill be vatching you very carefully!
    P.S. My keyboard has been carefully chosen to have only pounds and dollars on it.

  • Jordan

    Gee, Penn and Teller are funny and since it is on Teevee it must be true.

    Yes, it’s not as if they cited sources and quoted experts or anything, right? Did you even watch the video?

  • Vanya

    I watched the video, and did not see them cite a single source.

    My city’s garbage is trucked 200 miles away. Recyclables are mostly processed locally. So much for their argument it costs more to transport recyclables.

  • Jordan

    I watched the video, and did not see them cite a single source.

    Well then you weren’t paying attention.

    My city’s garbage is trucked 200 miles away. Recyclables are mostly processed locally. So much for their argument it costs more to transport recyclables.

    Yes, your anecdotal evidence completely demolishes every other data point.

  • gravid

    Jordan, I have not seen the video but it must be really compelling. If this video is all I need to see, to make me think a certain way. I’ve seen Penn and Teller cut a snake in half and put it back together……didn’t make me believe anything. Maybe recycling isn’t eceonomically viable for some stuff? But TV celebs pontificating isn’t going to make me beleive them. I’m too busy being high on cake and worrying about heavy electricity in my brass eye. I recycle bottles, cans and cardboard. Paper too but I try and use waste paper to light the fire. A charitable organisation takes my bottles, cans and cardboard and they make money from it. I get my rubbish taken away. Works for me.

  • Paper recycling plants make up a hefty fraction of the most heavily-contaminated toxic waste sites as defined by the EPA’s Superfund.

    A wise metallurgist once told me, “there are no non-ferrous scrap metals” i.e. things like copper, zinc, tin, lead all had value as re-usable materials. But that was the whole point: they had value, which meant someone would pay you cash money to have them. If, in the absence of subsidy, paper were still recycled, then we would know that recycling paper is economically sound (we know it’s not environmentally sound). But it wouldn’t be, of course. As P&T point out, recycling paper to save trees is like recycling corn to conserve maize. Their analysis of recycling as a gris-gris, an appeal to magic, is all too apt. There’s a limit to what two guys (one of whom is mute) can expound on in a 30 minute docu-comedy, but all the facts that bolster their case are readily available. Recycling makes perfect common sense. How could re-using materials not be both good for the environment and our pocketbooks? But like so many things in economics and environmentalism, common sense is a poor guide.

  • gravid

    “Lightly soiled toilet paper” much hilarity here…guess who is watching the video at last….?

  • Lance

    It’s funny how a lot of these comments center on if recycling is economically beneficial or not. Dispite what some think, there are reasons to do things other than money. It’s not economically viable to give 90 year old people medical treatment, but we do it anyway. Get over the money and recycle, reduce, and reuse. The earth makes life possible, so we all have a responsibility to take care of it.