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Is recycling a scam?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 
I have had this debate a number of times and would like to know what you all think?

In my experience we have alwasy either had to pay for recycling to be picked up curbside (no sorting but no glass curbside) or have to dive to a recycling center and sort our stuff. Either way we we would be paying, in money or time/work, to have someone else sell our recycling off to be recycled into something new. On top of that you have the vast majority of recycling leaving the country, usually on a boat, to be recycled into something new in a different country. How green is that as far as fuel used, manpower, etc. And how green is the process of recycling itself, making something old into something new? I imagine there is a lot of energy used which results in pollution.

Awhile back I heard about how China was not buying up our recycling anymore, or not as much, because the recession in this country affected the number of new products China was selling to the US, the new products having been packaged in our old recylables. And many of the recyclables that China was not buying, that Americans had paid to recycle, were being tossed into landfills. DH even said that at his work the cost of recycling cardboard had jump dramatically for this vary same reason, because it was had to resell.

In our home we try not to have things to recycle. I reuse just about every single glass jar that comes in. It bothers me a little that I pay so much for a item then give it away to someone else to make money off of. I know it's not much money to me but in the long run someone is getting rich off of it.
post #2 of 26


My DH recently said he'd heard that a large percentage--can't remember how much--of our recycling is put into landfills. That's all i know. So i've been wondering.
post #3 of 26
It really depends on where you live, I think. I lived in Corvallis, OR for college, and they were AWESOME about recycling. Totally committed to getting it reused. They even took styrofoam and aseptic containers, it was awesome.

Now I live in south TX (yuck) and I'm pretty sure that they don't really care. You REALLY have to hunt to find a recycling container around here, though some neighborhoods do have curbside.

I didn't read all the way through it, but the Wikipedia article on "Recycling" looks pretty comprehensive; you might want to check it out.

My problem with recycling is that yes, it is a good idea, and I totally support it, even if it isn't utilized 100%, because the idea of it is so important to me, but some people think that they are "saving the Earth" by recycling. And then they still drive gas-guzzlers, live in huge houses, fertilize and pesticide their lawns, eat environmentally-damaging food, etc., but still think that they are being "green" because they recycle. Recycling has been touted as this great thing, and it's a great component of a reduced carbon footprint lifestyle, but it cannot be it, you know?
post #4 of 26
I don't have an answer, but am concerned about this myself so I try my hardest to REDUCE first and then REUSE as much as possible. That's the only things I can figure out how to do to avoid trash and recycling. I have a feeling most things are not recycled in the end.
post #5 of 26
I don't think it is a scam, at least not where I live. We don't pay (well, we do through municipal taxes of course, but that is like with everything)

Last year we visited a recycling plant (where they separate the recycling since we don't separate glass/paper/plastic etc at home) and they were very stingy about who they then sell the recycling too to make sure that everything really does get recycled. Even the broken glass (nearly dust sized pieces) are all piled up and when they reach a certain weight they are sold to the company that recycles glass...

They also choose local companies for all the distribution.

The only things that get dumped into the garbage are the pieces of plastic with no recycling number on them since it would cost too much to test each piece to figure out where it is going. Whatever has the recycling sign with the number though can and is recycled.

Other things that make it in the landfill are things that can not be recycled (we saw stuffed animals, toys, small appliances etc coming off the trucks)

Anyway, I don't think it is a scam around here...
post #6 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by wholewheatchick View Post
My problem with recycling is that yes, it is a good idea, and I totally support it, even if it isn't utilized 100%, because the idea of it is so important to me, but some people think that they are "saving the Earth" by recycling. And then they still drive gas-guzzlers, live in huge houses, fertilize and pesticide their lawns, eat environmentally-damaging food, etc., but still think that they are being "green" because they recycle. Recycling has been touted as this great thing, and it's a great component of a reduced carbon footprint lifestyle, but it cannot be it, you know?
Excellent point. Just because you can recycle the container it came in, for eg. plastic water bottles, doesn't make them green by any stretch of the imagination.

I know that people think this because I used to be think like this, that recycling is good enough. When in fact Reduce is the best of the three R's.

Having said that, I think recycling plays a very important role even if it's not as clean or green as it should be. It is helping us along the way to a zero waste week.
post #7 of 26
Recycling isn't the "best" of the "3 Rs". If anything, it's the least important, as it comes third.

However, it's the easiest for people in this "disposable society" to implement. Toss the empty package in the recycling bin instead of in the trash, rather than having to actually make any changes (bring water in a stainless steel bottle instead of buying a plastic one while you're out.)
post #8 of 26
Some numbers here about embodied energy in various products:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embodied_energy

When you recycle glass, you save 60% in energy costs compared to making "new" glass.
Steel: 33% energy saving for recycled vs "new" (that energy comes from coal fired power plants )
Aluminum: 95% less energy
Paper: the energy savings are not so great, but fewer trees get cut down

Anywhere in the USA, it costs money to dispose of waste. The price per ton for disposal or recycling is much lower for paper, glass, or plastic than it is for trash. Aluminum, steel and copper, of course can be sold.
post #9 of 26
i know at my office, even though i take pains to put all the paper into the recycling bin, it just gets dumped into the dumpster. we've complained, but i'm not sure the cleaning crew is doing anything differently. i try to recycle everything i can, but i have read that the BEST thing to recycle is aluminum, the next best glass, and then cardboard. i've heard arguments that recycling paper is just as bad as producing new due to the harsh chemicals used, but that was probably a biased source. i agree that reusing is the most important R, followed by reducing. if you can get those two going strong, there won't be a whole lot left over to recycle
post #10 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by sh0rtchica View Post
i agree that reusing is the most important R, followed by reducing.
I think it's the other way around, reducing is the most important. Then reusing.
post #11 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by wholewheatchick View Post
My problem with recycling is that yes, it is a good idea, and I totally support it, even if it isn't utilized 100%, because the idea of it is so important to me, but some people think that they are "saving the Earth" by recycling. And then they still drive gas-guzzlers, live in huge houses, fertilize and pesticide their lawns, eat environmentally-damaging food, etc., but still think that they are being "green" because they recycle. Recycling has been touted as this great thing, and it's a great component of a reduced carbon footprint lifestyle, but it cannot be it, you know?
It's trendy. It's also trendy to drive SUV's, shop like mad and buy Starbucks every morning.

Has anyone watched the Penn and Teller Bullsh*t episode on recycling? What did you think?
post #12 of 26
Anomaly, good question! If you live where I live (noticed Duke City as your location) I've heard that waste management ships all the curbside recycling up to Denver to sort. That is all I know about it from a local aspect.

We do recycle whatever we possibly can, but I have often wondered about the impact. Great discussion - I'm interested in reading more.
post #13 of 26
I didn't see that episode.. but also wanted to return to the thread to add that I don't think the concept of recycling is bull (or a scam) but it's certainly not carried out the way it should be.

But what makes me cringe is people saying "oh well, it's a scam, don't even bother" rather than saying "this is crazy, we need to do something to ensure our stuff gets recycled properly."

But that is on top of what PPs say, that reducing is #1 and reusing is #2, and recycling only after that. I still think recycling is important if for no reason than right now it's the only thing many people are willing to do.
post #14 of 26
There are some specific situations in which people have been scammed into sorting things which then don't actually get recycled or get recycled in a wasteful and polluting way, but in general I think recycling is a great thing.

Quote:
On top of that you have the vast majority of recycling leaving the country
Do you have a reference for that? I know SOME of it does, but there are a lot of recycling plants here.

Quote:
And how green is the process of recycling itself, making something old into something new? I imagine there is a lot of energy used which results in pollution.
The important thing is whether it uses LESS energy than making the same thing from new material. It almost always does, but the amount of energy savings depends on the type of material--it's huge for aluminum, very small for paper and most types of plastic.

Another thing to consider is whether the resource is renewable (like paper, made from trees; or glass, made from sand) or limited (like plastic, made from petroleum; or metals). If it is limited, then recycling helps to delay the time when we will run out of it.

Quote:
Has anyone watched the Penn and Teller Bullsh*t episode on recycling? What did you think?
I thought most of it was, itself, bullsh*t. For example: They cite the inefficiency of PAPER recycling as an argument against recycling ANYTHING. They have a guy from an environmental group listing the risks of landfill leachate, and they cut him off practically in midsentence to show a landfill industry rep saying, "It's VERY safe," in a condescending tone and providing absolutely no supporting facts, and they treat that like the last word on the subject.
post #15 of 26
This is a topic I'm really interested in, so I am mostly posting to subscribe, but while I'm here:

Here is an article from our local newspaper from about a year ago talking about the downturn in the recyclables market and how the county's recycleables - gathered through a program partially funded by taxpayers - might well end up in landfills anyway.

http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/co...tlid=inform_sr

I have yet to find any good resources on what has happened since. In 2002, the EPA listed PB County as a "Community Success Story". Obviously, things have changed since then.

http://www.epa.gov/waste/conserve/to.../palmbeach.htm
post #16 of 26
just as i was graduating from high school, my city started a curbside recycling program. instead of collecting trash 2x a week, they started making one of the pickup days for recycling. They gave out blue bags, and you didnt have to sort it, just put all the recyclables in the blue bags and take them to the curb every week. awesome.
i went off to school and stayed away a bit longer than that. When I came back, there was no recycling pick up. I mentioned it to my dad, and he was amazed i missed "the big stink" about it- apparently, it came out that our city's recycling program was utter bs and they were just dumping everything in the landfill. I dont know what the point was- maybe the city got some kind of grant for recycling and cheated for it? Anyway, now there is ONE place in this city where you can drop off recycling, but the only plastics they take are soda and milk bottles. I sincerely hope that stuff is truly being recycled, otherwise I have wasted considerable time trouble and gas!
post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by amber913 View Post


My DH recently said he'd heard that a large percentage--can't remember how much--of our recycling is put into landfills. That's all i know. So i've been wondering.
Yup. My father stopped recycling at his business in a city in upstate NY after observing his carefully broken-down cardboard boxes being loaded into the trash truck with the trash from his business.
post #18 of 26
My daughters Daisy troop took a tour of our county recycling plant a few years ago. They had big plans and goals to raise the percentage of household waste that is recycled by the county to 50% of all collected waste. Last year at our recycling day event, they told us how they were closer to that goal. The price of recycling is include in our county taxes/trash fees so even if we did not recycle, we would have to pay for it. But I do recall that much of the recycling plant pays for itself in the materials they do sell. And I seem to remember them saying something about where the materials go - and it had something to do with not being cost effective to ship it far so they are always looking for manufacturers who have plants within certain regions. When they do find a new regional vendor, they add items that can be recycled if they were not included before. They recently added more types of food containers.

But they could have been lying - but who would do that to Daisies?


ETA - we have three different types of trash trucks come by on trash day - one regular trash, one mixed and paper recycling and one yard waste recycling. I have seen at the recycle center where the end up and am rather confident that they are not all landfill. They actually take the yard waste and shred it into mulch and sell it back to residents.
post #19 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by elsie View Post
My daughters Daisy troop took a tour of our county recycling plant a few years ago. They had big plans and goals to raise the percentage of household waste that is recycled by the county to 50% of all collected waste. Last year at our recycling day event, they told us how they were closer to that goal. The price of recycling is include in our county taxes/trash fees so even if we did not recycle, we would have to pay for it. But I do recall that much of the recycling plant pays for itself in the materials they do sell. And I seem to remember them saying something about where the materials go - and it had something to do with not being cost effective to ship it far so they are always looking for manufacturers who have plants within certain regions. When they do find a new regional vendor, they add items that can be recycled if they were not included before. They recently added more types of food containers.

But they could have been lying - but who would do that to Daisies?


ETA - we have three different types of trash trucks come by on trash day - one regular trash, one mixed and paper recycling and one yard waste recycling. I have seen at the recycle center where the end up and am rather confident that they are not all landfill. They actually take the yard waste and shred it into mulch and sell it back to residents.
We have a trash truck and a recycling truck come by on trash day, so i really had to wonder when dh said our recycling went into landfills--wouldn't that just be more work? I mean, the recycling truck guys are sorting as they're collecting. We also have a place to drop off yard waste, where we can then take mulch for free, as long as we load and haul ourselves. It has to depend on the area, and i may be a fool, but i have confidence that they're doing what they say they're doing with our recycling--in my area. I just wish they'd take more plastics; i'm swimming in quart yogurt containers!
post #20 of 26
Yeah, we're not at all comfortable with it.

I much prefer to reduce and reuse, as much possible. You know you just don't need to buy most of the stuff that you think you do. But then, we do have a pretty scaled back lifestyle. We do recycle what we manage to create as waste but we try really hard to not even get to that place.
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