Do you Recycle? Is it Worth The Effort?

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  1. GA Anderson profile image90
    GA Andersonposted 3 years ago

    This may not be the best forum for this, but I do see political implications in the promoted programs.

    In short, one Libertarian, (G. Mitchell of the International Liberty blog), presents a theory that our national recycling promotion is actually counter-productive.

    He notes such fact tidbits as:

    - - only about 16% of recyclables are actually economically feasible. As in of all the plastics and fiber paper products that are recycled by us only 16% are actually recycled in the garbage stream. Meaning, about 84% of what we spend the effort to recycle is still diverted to landfill disposal.

    As a note; I have done a few recyclables articles, (see my articles profile), and this figure is relatively correct.

    I did a quick walk-about and found that his assertion about the municipal costs point is correct. Many municipalities--large and small--have curtailed their recycling programs because they cost more than they save,

    His multiple reference links point to a final opinion that the reality that only 16% of recyclables are economically feasible discredits the recycle mantra that makes us all feel good.

    Instead of, "of course, we must recycle," the more realistic statement would be we must all recycle "x" and "y" and just toss the rest of the alphabet in the trash.

    I know this sounds 'counter-progressive', but, take a look at a few of his links and see if you think his position makes any sense.

    I know that when it comes to plastics, almost the only recyclable that doesn't cost more, (and get recycled more), is clear plastic water bottles. Almost every other plastic has a less than 16% recyclable rate.

    In short, are we wasting effort and money to recycle more than newspapers, cardboard, and water bottles?

    ps. even if you don't have a libertarian perspective, I highly recommend subscribing to this blog for pertinent and controversial "real" discussions.


    1. wilderness profile image96
      wildernessposted 3 years agoin reply to this

      There is more to recycling that getting things cheaper.  When we have to ship our garbage to China because our landfills are full to overflowing, it says something beyond simple economics.  Americans produce a truly astounding amount of garbage that is a one time use and then buried in the ground somewhere.

      I do recycle - some plastic and nearly all the cardboard that enters the house.  Although that only means a large garbage can full every month, that's still a lot for only 2 people.

      1. GA Anderson profile image90
        GA Andersonposted 3 years agoin reply to this

        I did make one error Wilderness, it was the plastics that have that 16% recyclable use rate. It was an error to include paper in that statement. Paper is one of the most recyclable categories.

        However, there is a debatable point or two in your response. If the source article is correct, and I did not check to see if it was, (but I will now), we are not suffering from overflowing, and a shortage of, landfills anymore. One point made was that that was a 1980s problem that has been mitigated by new landfill designs and regulations, and only partially mitigated by our recycling efforts.

        The "economical" aspect of recycling was two-fold, (here we are talking about two primary recyclable streams; plastic and paper), one was that economic feasibility is what drives the market to expand and innovate, (businesses have no interest if there isn't a profit motive), and the other was the actual energy and carbon costs; cleaning, sorting, transportation, incurred to recycle plastics.

        I don't know that I agree with all of the article's points. But I do see the reality of their plastics recycling criticisms. Maybe we just need to be more material focused than feel-good concept focused?


    2. grabgooglesgoogles profile image78
      grabgooglesgooglesposted 3 years agoin reply to this

      My initial feeling reading this is that recycling doesn't become worthless just because the government or local authority is incapable of efficiently recycling. Even if 100% went to landfills it would be valuable for raising awareness, while the government sorts itself out.

      If we all wait for someone else to make the first step, we'll be waiting forever.

    3. Mark O Richardson profile image82
      Mark O Richardsonposted 3 years agoin reply to this

      I recycle and I think its worth it. The story of the starfish comes to mind. It is where a boy is tossing star fish back into the ocean after they wash ashore. When asked why, he said that it mattered to the ones that he threw back. So even though it's a small thing, I still do it.

  2. Nathanville profile image92
    Nathanvilleposted 3 years ago

    Good Questions GA.

    For the first question:  “Do I Recycle?”  Living in Bristol, England, I have no choice; if I don’t I could get fined a £1,000 ($1,400). 

    In the UK, the level to which you recycle is largely dependent on the Recycling Policy in each Local Authority (Local Government); some, like Bristol, and a growing number of Local Governments are very good and have a ‘Zero Waste to Landfill’ Policy, and some only cycle the minimum and allow the rest to go to landfill.

    The Central Government’s Policy is to leave it to each Local Government how and what they recycle, but to impose a fine on Local Governments for using landfill; the more waste sent to landfills the greater the fine (landfill tax) that the Local Government has to pay to the Central Government. 

    As a Bristol residence I have to put anything that can be recycled in one of four recycle bins that’s collected weekly, and the rest (non-recyclables) in the Rubbish bin for fortnightly collection.

    The four recycle bins outside my backdoor being for:-

    •    Glass
    •    Food waste
    •    Garden waste
    •    Everything else that’s recyclable

    In addition, Bristol, and other Local Government’s e.g. Milton Keynes:  Even the rubbish in the non-recyclable bin goes for processing to extract anything in it that’s recyclable (MRF), then what’s left is used to generate Renewable Energy, and the residue of that process is used in the building industry. 

    Milton Keynes Materials Recycling Facility (MRF) in the UK:

    While the garden waste Bristol is used to make compost for industry and the food waste, along with sewage, is used to generate Renewable Energy for Electricity, Green Gas and Public Transport.
    Food Waste to Renewable Energy and Organic Fertiliser in the UK:

    Sewage Waste in Bristol used to Make Renewable Energy:

    The UK’s first food and poo-powered bus in Bristol (2014):
    As from August 2019, five years after Bristol’s 1st (prototype) poo bus, Bristol’s bus service is now running over 100 of its bus on sewage and food waste, and plan to replace all its remaining old (fossil fuel) busses over the next few years with poo buses.

    For your second question:  “Is it Worth the Effort?”  I confess I am a convert.  Before the introduction of ‘recycle bins’ to collect household rubbish, I wasn’t very ‘Green’’; but over the last ten years, as I’ve learnt more and more about the subject, it’s impact on the Environment, and on how innovative Local Governments in the UK are becoming to find commercially viable ways to recycle, I have been won over to not just seeing that it is worth the effort, but also that it’s essential.

    In fact quite recently I was impressed to learn that due to relatively new and innovative technologies for ‘waste management’ extraction and sorting making it ever more efficient and increasingly commercially viable to recycle waste, that some ‘Enterprising’ Companies across Europe now see old landfill sites as a potential profitable ‘resource’ for mining.

    Benefits of Enhanced Landfill Mining:
    Breakthrough documentary on Landfill Mining:

    1. hard sun profile image82
      hard sunposted 3 years agoin reply to this

      Thanks for sharing the links. I find waste management in the EU fascinating. Brexit could make for some difficult situations.

      1. Nathanville profile image92
        Nathanvilleposted 3 years agoin reply to this

        Yes Brexit (if it happens) will create many major problems for the UK in particular; especially to the British Economy and Trade.  Fortunately one area that will not be affected by Brexit is our connection to the Continental European Electricity Grid (with almost half a billion customers, the largest single ‘electricity grid’ in the world). 

        Scotland, who are now almost self-sufficient on ‘Renewable Energy’ at times export up to half their electricity (surplus) to England; and in turn England frequently exports (surplus) electricity to Ireland.  Plus we also Import hydropower electricity from Norway and France when needed, and potentially even from as far afield as Spain.

        Module 2: 2050 Electricity Supergrid [this video below was made in 2009 as a vision for 2050; but over the last 10 years progress has been rapid; so most of what was proposed in the video has already been completed]:

        Further to the above [old] video.  With most of what was proposed in the above video having now been achieved, the latest European mega Project for completion by 2027 is to build an artificial island in the middle of the sea between Britain and Norway to generate enough Renewable Electricity for 80 million homes:-

        North Sea Artificial Island Wind Farm Planned for 2027:

        1. hard sun profile image82
          hard sunposted 3 years agoin reply to this

          The European advances in renewables are commendable.

          It looks like, if Brexit happens, it could impact Britain's plans with landfills, among other effects, perhaps some positive:
          "Another disadvantage is that companies will turn to landfills primarily for getting rid of waste. The UK was almost starting to work on how to produce a large number of landfills to deal with waste before the regulations were set by the EU. This has the potential to have a really negative effect on the environment. Moreover, it also has the potential to affect various jobs in the waste industry as there might be a lack of complex and larger facilities that would otherwise be needed for waste management tasks."
 … -industry/

          1. Nathanville profile image92
            Nathanvilleposted 3 years agoin reply to this

            Thanks for the link ‘hard sun’.  The article was an interesting read, but ‘Compactor Management Company’ is a National American Company based in California, and has very little to do with European or British Waste Management; although I get the impression from the article that it’s one market they would like to break into!

            So although the sentiment of the article is correct, there were some subtle inaccuracies.  Yes, Britain’s Waste Management is currently governed by EU Regulations as a ‘base line’; but there is nothing stopping an Individual Member State Government from improving upon those base lines.  A prime example of that being with ‘Renewable Energy’ as a step towards reducing the ‘Carbon Footprint’ e.g. many northern EU countries (including the UK) is well ahead of targets set by the EU for 2020; and thanks to Theresa May rushing laws through at the last minute before Boris Johnson got hold of the reins, although the EU has a target to achieve ‘net zero’ carbon emission by 2050 the UK is the only country in the world where that target is set in LAW.

            Yes, if Brexit does happen, it does leave the British Government free to diverge from EU Laws, and if it does it would most likely be to relax the red tape and regulations (rather than tighten them); which would be bad news for the Environment.

            Whether (after Brexit) Britain does diverge significantly from EU laws is dependent on a strong Conservative Government being elected, which under the current political climate in the UK seems highly unlikely.

            The other factors to consider, apart from the Green Party, who has a significant influence in a number of Local Governments in Britain, is that whereas recycling used to be expensive and not commercially viable, due to innovative ‘Research & Development’ in Britain and across Europe, recycling is now becoming commercially viable and profitable; even to the extent that mining old landfill sites as a ‘valuable and profitable resource’ could become commercially viable.

            Ground-breaking UK project sees Viridor power plastic recycling with non-recyclable waste:

            Zero to Landfill [UK Commercial Waste Recycling Management Company]

            1. hard sun profile image82
              hard sunposted 3 years agoin reply to this

              Thanks. The sentiment is what I was concerned with as I'm not doing a study on the potential effects of Brexit on waste management and don't pretend to know a great deal about British politics. My point being, if Brexit happens, cooperation between EU nations, when it comes to Waste Management, seems is going to be more difficult and not good for the environment, which you confirmed. I guess the link was just not too helpful for those more "in the know."

              1. Nathanville profile image92
                Nathanvilleposted 3 years agoin reply to this

                After Brexit, waste management policies within the EU itself aren’t going to change; it’s just that cooperation between the EU and the UK may become more difficult. 

                However, Brexit isn’t going to stop the UK’s import and export of new technologies in waste management that makes recycling more profitable and commercially viable e.g. there’s a lot of money to be made by British Companies, who are investing heavily in ‘Research and Development’, to export their expertise, knowledge, skills and technologies.  Britain has always been a nation of innovation, and there’s no sign of that changing.

                As an example:-

                Ocean Energy Race - The UK's Inside Track:

    2. GA Anderson profile image90
      GA Andersonposted 3 years agoin reply to this

      Thanks Nathanville. Your comment points to one huge "innovation motivator"  - landmass. The U.S. has it and the U.K doesn't.

      Which means you folks have a much larger economic feasibility factor also.

      My intention wasn't to criticize the concept of recycling, it was only to point out that the reality of actual success is less than many folks think.


      1. Nathanville profile image92
        Nathanvilleposted 3 years agoin reply to this

        Thanks for the clarity GA.  We do have the same issue in the UK with reality not meeting perception, but not to the same extent as the USA e.g. some Local Authorities (Local Governments) have been collecting recyclable material and then just sending it to landfill etc. rather than recycling; but that will be changing over the next four years because the Central Government passed new Legislation earlier this year that by 2023 will force ALL Local Governments to meet the same ‘High Standards’ that some of the Local Governments are already achieving.

        Currently only 20% of Local Governments in the UK provide a complete recycling service e.g. ‘zero waste to landfill’ policy; but in spite of that in 2017 45.7% of all household waste was recycled (compared to just 11% in 2000); the EU Target is 50% by 2020.  On the positive side only 12.5% of all household waste ended up in landfill in 2017. 

        At first glance at the figures it would suggest a disparity between household waste not recycled in 2017 (54.3%) and the waste ending up in landfill (12.5%); one might think they should be the same.  But I think it’s mainly because most of what isn’t recycled ends up in incinerators to generate electricity rather than landfill; some of which is incinerated is waste that could have been recycled rather than just burnt.

        I couldn’t find any clear data for the USA, but one source did suggest that in 2015 only about 30% of household waste in the USA was recycled?

        Yes ‘landmass’ (of which the USA has more than the UK) is one ‘innovation motivator’ in the UK, but it’s not the only one, and it’s not the main one.  With Climate Change (Global Warming) being at the forefront of European politics, the main motivators across Europe is ‘Environmental’ issues and the impact on ‘Climate Change’ (Global Warming).  This is largely reflected in the UK in that the Local Governments who tend to be more fanatical in pursing Green Policies are those where the Green Party, and to some extent Labour, have a major control over the Local Authority (Local Government).

    3. grabgooglesgoogles profile image78
      grabgooglesgooglesposted 3 years agoin reply to this

      Great resources! I'm a bit disappointed that there is no centralised UK policy on recycling, although what you've mentioned on a landfill tax does incentivise environmentally-friendly behaviour.

      1. Nathanville profile image92
        Nathanvilleposted 3 years agoin reply to this

        That is about to change.  In her last weeks in Office, when it became abundantly clear that Boris Johnson would become the next Prime Minister, Theresa May rushed through a couple of important 'Green' Policies into 'LAW' locking Boris Johnson (and any future Conservative Government) into legal commitments that's not to their taste:-

        1.   That the UK has to legally achieve 'net zero' carbon emission by no later than 2050, by law, and

        2.   That by 2023 there will be a centralised UK policy on recycling, forcing all Local Authorities (Local Governments) to meet the same high standards already being achieved by about 20% of Local Authorities.

        The only way these laws can be changed is by future Governments overturning them in Parliament e.g. a strong Conservative Government with a large majority.  And with the way things are at the moment with British politics that is highly unlikely for some time to come; by which time it may well be too late for a hard right-wing Government to do very much to stop or slow the current momentum towards a greener environment.

        Theresa May Makes Net Zero Carbon Emissions a UK Legal Requirement by 2050:

        1. grabgooglesgoogles profile image78
          grabgooglesgooglesposted 3 years agoin reply to this

          Really glad to hear this! Thank you for the information and the news video smile

  3. hard sun profile image82
    hard sunposted 3 years ago

    There's some good economic points made in the article. However, I'm pretty sure "environmentally safe landfill." is an oxymoron. The long term solutions have more to do with design for longevity and disposal that is environmentally and economically sound. We must think about disposal and longevity during the design phase if we truly want to minimze our product-related footprints.

    Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things and Sustainability by Design: A Subversive Strategy for Transforming Our Consumer Culture---  two classic books on the subject that I read during my studies that specifically involved electronic waste. E-waste  is particularly tricky. No clear/easy answers.

    Our family recycles. The city makes it easy with blue bags that they sort. Unfortunately, much of it is not recycled just as the article points out.

  4. IslandBites profile image88
    IslandBitesposted 3 years ago

    Yes. We've been doing it for more than 20 years.


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