That was the sound of environmentalists’ heads exploding all over the world because according to this article at the Telegraph, recycling might actually be contributing to greenhouse gases instead of reducing them. Heh. The internal conflict must be horribly dehibilitating.
On an unrelated note yet still in the same article, we get this graf:
Some town halls have admitted using anti-terrorism legislation to snoop on householders who fail to recycle properly, but councils have so far refused to test the Government’s bin taxes, under which people would be fined for throwing out too much rubbish.
I knew taxation in Europe was high but are you kidding me? Fined for throwing out too much rubbish? Good god almighty I can’t see how the British people haven’t up and revolted at such a thing. On top of that, some town halls have used anti-terrorism legislation to make sure people are recycling properly. I cannot fathom such an outrage. In the old days, those town halls would have been tarred and feathered. I think that would be appropriate today as well.
0 comments on “That Popping Sound You Just Heard”
January 28, 2009 at 11:35 am
normally i’m at work when i get to read your blog, but with the ice storm i’m working from home and have a chance to respond. while this article definitely points out a flaw in the current process, please don’t misunderstand (or misrepresent) what it actually says. the conclusion that is drawn (and it is really more of a question) is that the transport costs may be more environmentally intensive than local incineration. i think just about anyone can see that a 3000-mile trip isn’t too effective from a global climate standpoint.
so, this suggests not that recycling is inherently more environmentally costly than incineration, but that the infrastructure is lacking to make recycling properly feasible. secondarily, any environmentalist worth his or her salt could have told you this already, and would in fact be suggesting focus on the ‘reduce’ and ‘reuse’ segments of the environmentalist trinity anyway. either way, this article isn’t terribly likely to make any environmentalist’s head explode.
January 28, 2009 at 12:02 pm
Glad you can comment today. I definitely don’t misunderstand or misrepresent what the article says. I would argue that the article does in fact suggest that recycling is inherently more costly because to borrow from Donald Rumsfeld, you don’t recycle with the recycling system you want, you recycle with the recycling system you have, e.g. in the case of the article, a system that involves shipping rubbish 3000 miles to China which is clearly more environmentally impactful than burning it.
You can’t gauge the benefits of recycling in a vacuum outside the system you have to use to recycle. There have been several studies that the money, energy and cost that goes into recycling could be much better spent in other ways to positively affect the environment. Just because recycling in theory could be good for the environment doesn’t mean it will be without a great deal of effort and cost.
My main point is that recycling is mostly useful because it makes people feel like they are doing something positive for the environment. As it turns out, there is at least anecdotal evidence that they are actually negatively contributing to the environment. The irony is thick, rich and dripping, like a Fudgsicle on a hot summer’s day.
And full disclosure, my family recycles probably twice what they throw away. Is that double reverse irony or what?
January 28, 2009 at 2:49 pm
but there is no anecdotal evidence to suggest everyone who recycles is negatively affecting the environment, but that some percentage of recyclable material in england may be contributing negatively to the environment. without something to suggest that the transport of that percentage to china creates, on overall balance relative to the entire recyclable volume in the UK, a higher greenhouse gas emission than not recycling any of it, there is nothing on which to base even a blanket statement of ‘maybe’. without that, little or no irony at all, and certainly none that will get on my shoe.
this article really just suggests that the whole thing may need to be studied. of course there might be a better way; there almost always is. but the view in the article is amazingly narrow. contrary to your assertion, i’d submit that recycling is mostly useful because it keeps all that trash out of landfills. if we’re going to incinerate it, which is not on the surface a bad plan, it stays out of the landfill also, but are the reduced transport costs in greenhouse gases offset by the particulate and toxin emissions of the incineration process? not mentioned. and you also don’t burn anything in a vacuum.