[GRRN] forwarded without comment

Pablo Collins (collins@csandh.com)
Fri, 5 Nov 1999 12:06:44 -0500

BETSY HART: Recycling is a waste=20
Copyright =A9 1999 Nando MediaCopyright =A9 1999 Scripps Howard News =
(November 5, 1999 4:00 a.m. EST http://www.nandotimes.com) - Each week
in my neighborhood, the homeowners dutifully trot their little yellow
bins of recyclables out to the end of their driveways. There are
carefully rinsed-out cans, separated from the glass, next to the neatly
tied up newspapers.=20
But by and large, it's a waste.=20
In America, recycling is seen as an inherent moral good. It starts
early, when little children sing songs along with their favorite
television characters about the value of reusing garbage. Later they
will focus on recycling in school, and many kids will confront parents
not deemed fervent enough in sorting clear from colored glass. As
adults, they will regularly trot their yellow bin to the end of the
When the curbside recycling craze started about a dozen years ago, the
case was made that the world was running out of resources and landfills
were running out of space. The answer to both problems was to reuse our
garbage whenever possible. So Americans were sold on aggressive, even
mandatory recycling programs - but it seems we were really sold a bill
of goods.=20
Recycling paper, for instance, does not save trees. The vast majority of
our paper comes from trees grown on farms for that purpose. In fact,
there are more trees in the United States today than at any other time
in this century. We might just as well "conserve" wheat by not eating
bread. Further, the prices of virgin raw materials used to make other
commonly recycled goods like plastic, glass and aluminum continue to
drop, reflecting the growing abundance of these materials as
ever-improving technology makes them easier and cheaper to develop.
Often significantly cheaper than the cost of recovering the same
material from recycled goods.=20
Nor are we running out of room for garbage. Professor A. Clark Wiseman,
an economist at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., calculated that if
Americans continue generating garbage at current rates, it would take
1,000 years before the total refuse pile would fill an area 35 miles
square and 100 yards deep. Given today's stringent regulations on
landfills, it could then safely be covered over and used for parkland.
No it's not practical to create a national trash heap, but considering
America's 3 million plus square miles of territory and its vast areas of
wilderness, it's clear this is hardly a tall order to fill.=20
But, some folks are sure to say, shouldn't we still recycle everything
we can - just in case it does some good later?=20
Not necessarily. First there are the costs involved. Many larger
jurisdictions spend millions of dollars a year on their recycling
programs. (New York City spends between $50 million and $100 million.)
Picking up a ton of recyclables (forget the expense of processing it)
can cost three times as much as picking up the same amount of garbage.
Though some of the expense may be offset by selling some recovered
materials - frequently municipalities instead have to pay to have
useless recycled material taken off their hands - aggressive curbside
recycling programs are almost always significant revenue losers. And
that has real consequences now: less money available for better schools,
safer roads, more police or improved social services.=20
Then there's the pollution created by recycling. That's right,
pollution. And not just by the trucks transporting the material. As
public policy analyst and recycling expert James DeLong has noted,
recycling is a manufacturing process. And it can take just as much
energy and create just as much pollution and waste - or even more - to
disassemble something in the recycling process as to assemble it the
first time around.=20
Yes, there are some cases in which some recycling does make economic
sense. The problem is in blindly thinking that it always makes sense.
Still, the moral imperative for recycling as much as we can continues.
Perhaps, as writer John Tierney once noted in a New York Times Magazine
piece titled "Recycling is Garbage," "we're performing a rite of
atonement for the sin of excess," assuaging our consciences for the
unprecedented prosperity and ease of life we enjoy in America. Well
then, maybe the trip to the end of the driveway has become a sort of
religious pilgrimage. But if people really are determined to feel guilty
about waste, they'd be better off feeling guilty about the waste
involved in their recycling.=20
Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can
be reached at mailtohart@aol.com <mailto:mailtohart@aol.com>.=20