A contrarian's perspective on recycling paper, cardboard, metals and food waste

In the October 3  Sunday New York Times, JOHN TIERNEY wrote a provocative opinion piece titled, "The Reign of Recycling" in which he takes on many commonly held beliefs about the benefits of recycling. Always open to contrarian perspectives, I read the article and found the conclusions to be rather disturbing if Mr. Tierney's facts are correct.

If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront. Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?
— David P. Steiner, chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States.

From the NYT article, "According to the E.P.A.’s estimates, virtually all the greenhouse benefits — more than 90 percent — come from just a few materials: paper, cardboard and metals like the aluminum in soda cans. That’s because recycling one ton of metal or paper saves about three tons of carbon dioxide, a much bigger payoff than the other materials analyzed by the E.P.A. Recycling one ton of plastic saves only slightly more than one ton of carbon dioxide. A ton of food saves a little less than a ton. For glass, you have to recycle three tons in order to get about one ton of greenhouse benefits. Worst of all is yard waste: it takes 20 tons of it to save a single ton of carbon dioxide."

Articles of this nature questioning popular beliefs tend to be embraced by outsiders and dismissed by those in power. I do not know the validity of the statistics used to support Mr. Tierney's opinion, however I do think it is healthy for the public to openly discuss such issues.

Our household voluntarily recycles and we do so happily. Some nearby jurisdictions have instigated strict recycling laws requiring residents to abide by onerous standards. Food scrap patrols sift through people's garbage cans looking for recyclable items discarded as trash and levy steep fines on those who do not recycle as much as the government mandates. Having Big Brother snooping through residents' garbage is no way to live in a free society.

Food for thought. And food scraps for thought too.

Thank you to Bob McConnell for sending us the link.