Is Recycling Worth the Effort? The Crowded Earth and the Great Recycling Hoax
The City of Garbage
Does Recycling Matter?
Recycling takes a lot of work. You have to separate your garbage, and make it suitable for recycling. The people who collect the stuff want you to remove labels from cans, to make sure that the plastic you are putting in the bin is the right kind, that the glass is clean of food scraps, and so on. It's unpaid work which is foisted on you either by regulations that compel you to donate your time and effort for what is the greater good, or social pressure which makes you feel guilty if you don't. But does recycling do any good at all?
How Most of the World Really Recycles
The Recycling Bandwagon
A couple of years ago my city jumped on the recycling band wagon and made everyone buy a big blue recycling bin on wheels. Not just a blue recycling box mind you, but a huge monstrosity on with wheels and metal bars where the high tech recycling truck could grab on and lift the contents into its bin, and then take our recyclable paper, glass and metals to the local recycling center.
To finance this new project and to pay for the expensive high tech garbage - I mean recycling - truck every homeowner had to pay an extra $200 on his or her taxes. But it was a small price to pay we were told. We were helping to save the environment, reduce what was going into the landfill. Reduce, re-use was the mantra of the day.
Similar recycling initiatives have spread throughout cities in North America. But the truth that no one wants to talk about is that it does not work and recycling is a big waste of time.
Don't get me wrong, I want to save the planet. But recycling is a bandaid when you have arterial bleeding. It does no good but it does make us feel good. Its like taking a sugar placebo when the doctor should have prescribed chemotherapy; you may feel that you are getting better but the cancer is still growing. It's time to stop the self delusion and tackle, the real problem.
Why Recycling Does Not Work
But first let's talk about why recycling does not work. In principle, it should be taking newspapers, pop cans, plastic bottles, and other junk and converting it into new things so we don't have to cut down as many trees, pump as much oil, or mine as much metal. These are noble goals.
But in fact, there is little market for these recyclables. In my city, it came to light that the recycling center was overstocked with newsprint, and plastics and could not find a market for it. In fact it was losing money. So in went more tax money to keep it afloat. And the excess newsprint and plastics, where did it go? Into the landfill of course. This bizarre charade of collecting recyclables only to then take them to the same landfill where the rest of your garbage ended up in, after you spent hours painstakingly separating them from your other refuse, is something which happens all the time in cities throughout Canada and the U.S. But no one likes to talk about it, because it's like the Emperor's New Clothes. As long as we pretend that the blue boxes are going to save the environment we can go on our business of consuming and not feel guilty that our economic system, our very culture is designed for mass self caused extinction. convert recyclables into new products is more than
The Reality of Overpopulation
The problem is that even if recycling worked as intended, which it actually does not, it is like sticking a finger in a dyke to stem the flood of water. It is too little too late.
The real problem is that there are nearly 7 billion people on this planet and these people all want and need food. clothing, fuel and space. In addition to their needs these 7 billion people also have wants that go beyond bare survival: drugs, exotic foods, and a two car garage, or whatever the local equivalent of the middle class dream might be.
To feed these needs and these wants, we are despoiling the planet. We must extract more and more, to meet the needs of today and who cares about tomorrow. Deep sea fishing trawlers now drag their nets along the ocean floor allowing nothing to escape, killing fish and dolphins and scraping the ecosystem of the ocean floor into a watery desert. The result is a temporary rise in fish production, but also a headlong rush towards an unsustainable cliff.
Already the cod fishery off of Newfoundland, which only a few hundred years ago was so rich that early explorers reported being able to fish simply by dipping buckets into the sea, has completely collapsed. The tuna is on the verge of extinction, and as it becomes more scarce, prices go up which fuels incentive for more over fishing and illegal fishing. Some major corporations are storing tons of tuna in deep freezes, betting on the day that it goes completely extinct so that they can sell the now rare stock at huge profits. A major scientific study predicts that all of the world's fisheries will collapse by 2050 due to overfishing. 1 billion people rely on fish as their main food source. And so it goes on.
And the destruction of the planet is being fueled not only by the legitimate needs of a hungry world but by the perverse and selfish needs of humankind, the only predator who does not hunt for food. In Africa the elephant is being wiped out by poachers so that they can steal their ivory tusks. The rhinocerous is being driven to extinction by Chinese traditional medical quackery that believes that it is nature's cure for poorly endowed men. And in Cambodia, the ancient rain forests are being burned and slashed because the roots of a particular tree produce a chemical used in the production of ecstasy. In South America the rain forest is being destroyed to make room for cocoa production used in the cocaine traffic as well as ranches to feed our appetites for cheap burgers.
Despite these signs of approaching catastrophe, we barely notice that the canary in the coal mine has stopped singing. This is because in the West especially we have been able to keep the ugly stuff away from us, in places most of us have never heard of. A genocidal civil war wages in the Congo over control of rare minerals used in the manufacture of cellphones, but we line up to buy the latest release and do not care. We grow fat and do not care that our mother earth is shriveling.
The Overpopulation Deniers
Some deluded conspiracy theorists see any effort to curtail our out of control population as part of a scheme by the New World Order to take over the world. These fear mongers are scared of the wrong thing and their paranoia prevents us from dealing with the real issue. Others focus their opposition on the so-called Agenda 21, the United Nations action plan for sustainable development as a threat to our way of life.
What Do Do
In order to deal with the problem we must understand what it is. The problem is that we are a selfish species and there are too many of us. No amount of recycling, even of cutting down consumption, will adequately counteract the amount of land sea and air that each human uses. And the fact is that our economic model requires over consumption and population growth, so as bad as things are now they will only get worse as time goes on - unless we do something about it.
But if we are going to save ourselves we need to start seeing over population and consumption growth as the real enemies rather than indicators of progress and economic activity. We are 7 billion people and more and more land around the world is being taken over by shanty towns or suburbs, our roads scar the landscape - great arteries to feed this bloated enterprise.
Now imagine a better world. One were there are a lot fewer humans. Not a world where everyone has died from a plague or famine, though this may be closer than you think, but a world in which people made a conscious decision to reduce their population to a manageable limit such as one or two billion people. A world that did not engage in stupid doctrinal arguments against birth control and condemned women in most of the developing world to a life of semi slavery and poverty with their children picking scraps out of a garbage dump (which is how most of the world recycles).
A less populated world would have abundant wealth for its inhabitants. The pie would be the same but everyone would get a better and larger slice. And in time, perhaps the pie would even get bigger. The oceans and rivers would recover, plants and animals and fish would come back. We owed this to ourselves - the sake of our children and for the sake of this planet.