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[GreenYes] Tierney strikes again!
To my knowledge John Tierney's latest attack on recycling has not appeared
on these listserves.   If I am mistaken, my apologies.   The following op 
ed piece
is from the New York Times

February 15, 2002

Rethinking the Rites of Recycling

Environmentalists may not like Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's proposal to 
suspend the recycling of cans and bottles. But it could be their best 
chance to save their reputations and do some good for the environment.

The recycling program was sold to New Yorkers nearly a decade ago with the 
promise that it would save money. It did not. If New York had instead 
shipped all those recyclables to out-of-state landfills, the city would 
have saved more than half a billion dollars, and that figure doesn't even 
include the biggest costs, which are the labor and storage space that 
citizens are forced to donate to the cause.

Recycling newspapers makes a certain amount of sense, because used 
newsprint often has economic value and people often have special bins for 
their newspapers anyway. But why clutter the city with bins for stuff 
that's less than worthless? The city pays extra to collect and dispose of 
the bottles and cans, and then 40 percent of the stuff ends up in landfills 

Could this sort of recycling ever pay for itself, as environmentalists are 
still promising? Maybe, but only if its devotees abandon their passion for 
hand-sorted trash and their belief that we're running out of natural 
resources. They've expected recycling to become profitable as raw materials 
become more expensive, but they're on the wrong side of two historical 
trends. For thousands of years, the costs of natural resources have been 
falling in relation to the cost of labor.

Recycling might someday pay if the sorting were done not by hand but by 
machines. Miners and oil drillers have used computerized technology to 
extract small concentrations of materials that would once have been 
unprofitable. Maybe robots will one day profitably sift garbage for 
minerals and plastics.

But many environmentalists don't like this vision. In some cities, they've 
fought plans to use automated sorting equipment because they wanted people 
to have the hands-on experience. Here in New York, one of the most 
expensive labor forces on the planet is being forced to sortmaterials that 
third world peasants wouldn't waste their time saving.

Recycling has become a sacrament of atonement for buying too much stuff  
for secretly loving stuff too much, as James B. Twitchell explains in "Lead 
Us Into Temptation," a study of consumer passions. "While we claim to be 
wedded to responsible consumption," he writes, "we spend a lot of our time 
philandering. Trash is lipstick on the collar, the telltale blond hair." 
Recycling is our way of saying, "I'm sorry, honey."

Sinners have every right to repent, but in this country religious 
sacraments are not supposed to be legally mandated or publicly subsidized. 
Recycling bottles and cans next year would cost taxpayers more than $50 
million. Why don't its devotees find another ritual of atonement that might 
help the environment and save the city money?

SUPPOSE that all the time and money spent exhorting children and adults to 
recycle were spent instead urging each New Yorker to pick up one piece of 
litter each day. Millions of pieces of trash would disappear; 
street-cleaning bills would plummet.

Perhaps guilty consumers could get used to paying for their sins with cash. 
Environmentalists could urge the end of free trash collection. If people 
had to pay for each can of trash they produced, they'd find ways to reduce 
waste, and the city budget would benefit.

Or suppose environmentalists channeled their zeal for recycling into 
another political cause: putting tolls on the East River bridges. These 
tolls would have economic virtues (more on that in another column), while 
also reducing air pollution and fuel consumption by easing traffic 
congestion. The recycling program, by contrast, increases local air 
pollution and fuel consumption by putting extra trucks on the roads to 
collect bottles and cans.

Could the act of paying a toll be turned into a sacrament? Could children 
and adults be trained to regard the toll as penance for the extravagance of 
owning a gas- guzzling, polluting machine?

Some recycling devotees might not be satisfied. Paying a toll on the East 
River bridges might seem too simple, too antiseptic, too easy by comparison 
with the mortification of sorting garbage. For these ascetics, maybe the 
best ritual would be for them to get out of their cars altogether and walk 
across the bridges, possibly on their knees. For extra penance, these 
pilgrims could carry sacks filled with old bottles and cans.

Pat Franklin
Executive Director
Container Recycling Institute
1911 Ft Myer Drive, Suite 702
Arlington, Virginia  22209
703.276.9800  fax 703.276.9587

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