Recycling a bad thing?

I came upon anecdotal evidence (no cite) that stated recycling costs triple what normal garbage does. The whole conserving trees thing also doesn’t fly with me. Trees are grown and harvested on tree farms, and there will never be a shortage of trees. The radical environmentalists would have us believe that though.

And we are in no way, shape, or form, running out of landfill space. Maybe some cities have a shortage, but there is no realistic lack of space for garbage in the next few thousand years.

I guess my question is, if recycling paper has no real use (no shortages, and the process only harms the environment with the extra transportation etc), and plastic etc. Should we still do it?

One other benefit to recyling is that there is less rubbish filling up the landfills…

With that logic, we will never have a shortage of food either.

If you start with the premise that recycling paper and plastic does no good and only harms the environment, then of course we shouldn’t do it. Not a real tough question.

However, I suspect is that your premises may not be as clear cut as you set them out to be.

Tell that to the Amazon.

Are you saying that action shouldn’t be taken until a crisis? We will run out of space some day. Whether it’s today or tomorror or a thousand years from now doesn’t matter. It’s still a good idea to start implementing policies before a crisis hits to help alieviate it.

Yeah, since it costs so much more and hurts the environment and we’ll never run out of trees and we have fusion technology anyway that we can use to simply convert all of our waste to energy (sorry, no cite) why should we ever think about recycling? It’s only the crazy radical environmentalists who want to force us to do that for no good reason.

Recycling can be useful if some of the costs and benefits of the good are not included in the good (economists call these externalities). One externality could be to do with landfill: if the marginal cost of landfill is not imposed on those who use it, they will tend to ignore those costs. The fact that we are not running out of landfill sites is not really the issue - it’s whether that land could be used for something else.

There are lots of other things that might be external costs. Trees provide various other benefits that are typically unpriced - things to do with soil, water and air quality etc. Other things that are recycled - like aluminium cans - avoid other significant costs like energy (which may be depleteable and/or polluting).

So you have to look at all costs, not just those that register in a distorted market. Of course it’s probably true that some recycling is uneconomic and is being done for foolish reasons. But some is probably a good idea - recycled aluminium, for example, uses 95% less energy than the new stuff. A programme that is cheap to run and yields quite a lot of cans is almost certainly a good idea. Ironically, however, whilst an environmental tax could reduce environmental degradation, the likely effect of altruistic recycling efforts is to have a bigger economy for the same environmental damage.

I know you’ve already been poked on this, but this is exactly what happened to the dodo, and to so many other exctinct birds and animals. People saw there were so many of them so why not hunt like crazy? Until there were all gone.

Conservation doesn’t start during a crisis. It should start before. Unfortunately we are already in the crisis.

It’s probably true that there will never be a shortage of trees or landfill space, but it really depends on how you define ‘shortage’. Hell, you could dump your garbage on the moon if you had to. Why don’t we do that? Because it would cost too much, that’s why.

For landfill, the site must be near enough to where people live to make it economically feasible to transport the waste to it. Remote areas are not good because of the cost to build roads and transport the garbage there. The same is true of trees. There may be plenty of trees in existence, but it’s the ones that can be harvested economically that matter. Most of the trees close to civilization have been harvested, and it takes decades for that same spot to produce harvestable trees again.

Shortage doesn’t mean ‘not very many left’. It means not very many left in an economically viable way. So it’s to our benefit to use landfills and forests that are close to civilization wisely. The further away you have to go, the more expensive it gets. At some point the expense is too much and you effectively have a shortage.

Tell it to the people of Easter Island. Soil isn’t some magical source of life; overuse it, and it will be ruined or just gone. Last I heard, we were still losing fertile land.

The problem I have with most recycling efforts is that nobody ever considered how much energy is WASTED by them. take the massachusetts can/bottle recyling law. It was written to discourage recycling-because instead of doing it in a RATIONAL way, you bring your cans in, and the retailer transports them in bags to the recyler. Instead of crushing them,(and paying you by the weight of aluminum), the retailer trucks the cans back intact, so they are using diesel fuel to transp[ort MOSTLY air. of course, the inherent stupidity of MA politicians is legendary-but they really surpassed themselves on this one!

Well, to be honest, the bottle bill is an indirect subsidy program for the poor. It’s a way for the marginalized to get a bit of income by their own efforts. I, and plenty of people I know, never turn my bottles in at the store; I put them out on the street for the can collectors – typically immigrants with limited English. Plus you see the homeless scrounging them out of public trash cans. None of this has much to do with the recycling discussion.

As to whether recycling is a net economic gain or loss, it obviously depends on what’s being recycled, and how, and when. For example, the price of scrap metal has gone through the roof recently, which obviously changes the economics. There’s no shortage of info online on this very question.

How do you figure that? Are the trucks loaded by volume?

Are you talking about a bottle/can refund here? The biggest benefits I’ve seen from those isn’t more recycling, it’s less littering. Back in the 70’s Michigan didn’t have a deposit on bottles and cans. I remember driving in the UP and being surprised at the number of cans you would always see at the side of the road. A can deposit was implimented and the change was amazing.

The cost reduction in terms of energy for recycled aluminum, vs. aluminum mined and smelted from bauxite, is something like 95%. It’s rather difficult to believe the energy cost of transporting even fully intact cans outweigh the savings. Also, many of the recycling facilities and the nearly ubiquitous machines in supermarkets shred the aluminum cans before transport, thus removing the volume issue you claim is a problem.

Yes, retailers will NOT accept a dented or crushed can for refund. So instead of being able to crush the cans at home, you bring back empty cans. these are trucked back to the recycler, so you are transporting (mostly) air. Why not crush your cans at home, then when you have enough to make it worthwhile, bring them in and get paid by weight? No, that would make too much sense-the law was written to DISCOURAGE recycling…and some hefty bribes from the Soft Drink/Berr Lobby probably influenced how the law was written.

Again, I’m not at all certain about the transportation issues you claim exist. Both the redemption center I use, as well as the can return machines stationed outside of all major supermarkets in MA shred the cans.

Besides, the need for intact cans is a cataloguing issue. It’s not possible to efficiently identify a can for refund if it’s crushed. Requiring return to collect the refund is the impetus to return in the first place, by the way, and prior to, virtually no one was returning aluminum cans to be paid for the weight of aluminum. They were putting them in the trash, and they were ending up in landfills.

because the shredders/melters can’t handle crushed cans. It takes significantly more power and heat to shred a crushed can than it does an intact can.

Recycling does cost more on the surface than trash disposal in many parts of the United States, where landfill space is currently plentiful and tipping fees (per-ton charges for disposing of trash in landfills) are low. That is certainly the case here in Indiana.

Consider the steps in trash collection and disposal:

  1. Trash is collected by the hauler
  2. It is transported to the landfill (either directly or through a transfer station)
  3. It gets dumped in, smashed flat, and covered with dirt.

Then consider the steps in recycling collection and marketing:

  1. Recyclables are collected by the recycler. They may be sorted as they go into the truck, or
  2. They go to a materials recovery facility, where they are sorted by material (plastic, aluminum, etc.) and contaminants are removed.
  3. Each material is prepared for shipping (often compressed into big bundles called bales)
  4. Each material is shipped to whoever has purchased that load.

Many recycled materials have market value, and the revenues help support recycling programs that are able to process and market their own materials.

Recycling is about more than saving the trees. It’s about conserving all of our natural resources and reusing manufacturing inputs that have definite value. The production of new steel, for instance, almost always requires the input of recycled steel. It’s also about saving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by using what we already have instead of extracting the fresh stuff from mines / trees / whatever.

The US EPA has an interesting calculator called WARM (WAste Reduction Model) that takes into consideration a number of factors, and shows the environmental benefits/impacts of different waste management methods:
WARM Calculator

And I have to add that it is also about devoting as little of our land to final disposal of trash as possible. Why use it up with trash? Landfills are very expensive to build, and very difficult to site - turns out quite a few people don’t want one near their homes. Waste to energy facilities come with their own efficiency and environmental issues, and also aren’t terribly popular with citizens.

As to redemption centers not accepting crushed cans - I really think it must be an identification issue. Most recyclers around here (no deposit in Indiana) ask people to crush their cans to save space in the recycling trucks and recycling drop-off bins.

They accept crushed cans for recycling in California; you’re also paid out by weight for anything over 50 cans.