Well, IAASWP (I Am A Solid Waste Professional), and here are my admittedly biased thoughts on the points you bring up - I did watch bits and pieces of the show, but just didn’t have the energy for the yelling at the TV watching the wole thing would have required. Yes, Rex, I did see it as selective interviewing - the anti recycling information came mainly from one person, and they used people who I would definitely call kooky to illustrate their points (a bin for used toilet paper? Come on!)
Some recycling programs cost more money than they generate, quite true. That is because the profitability of recycling is completely based on markets - and these markets go up and down all the time. If you could only collect those materials with a high market value, recycling programs would always be profitable. However, recycling is a habit for most people; if you constantly change what materials are accepted in a recycling program, those habits are going to get broken and people are going to say “to heck with it.”
[pet peeve mode] No one expects trash service to pay for itself … [/pet peeve mode]
**Recycling processes can cause pollution ** and I believe that was the case for paper recycling many years ago (made more pollution than making paper from virgin fiber). The paper industry has made serious changes in their recycling processes since then, and I believe that’s the case in most recycling operations. It’s hard to argue that making new aluminum by melting down old aluminum produces more pollution that mining the bauxite ore and extracting the alumina before melting into new aluminum. I’m not at work (silly government internet use rules) so if you’d like a cite for that I’ll have to get back to you.
There is not a shortage of space for landfills, but it’s not as simple as finding an open space to put your trash. Admittedly, the “garbage crisis” was what got a lot of folks into recycling in the late 80s / early 90s, as older landfills were closing and the garbage barge The Dobro was sailing around from port to port. That crisis has not come to pass - newer landfills are bigger that the old ones were, so fewer landfills does not equal less landfill space.
Landfills are hard to site (hard to find an appropriate place, lots of neighbor opposition) and expensive to build (liners, leachate collection systems, ground water monitoring wells, etc.). Landfill owners have to maintain financial responsibility for 30 years after landfill closure, in case of any leaks or other problems. After 30 years, it’ll probably become the government’s responsibility to clean up. The regulations for municipal solid waste landfills haven’t been around for 30 years yet, so we don’t know what will happen to the liners in the long term.
As far as saving resources, I submit the following for your perusal (not that I claim these are completely unbiased sites, but they are funded by the material trade associations)
American Forest and Paper Association, the national trade association of the forest, pulp, paper, paperboard and wood products industry. Click on the “Environment and Recycling” tab at the top.
The Steel Recycling Institute, a unit of the American Iron and Steel Institute.
The Aluminum Association, the aluminum industry’s trade association.
Each trade association seems to feel that recycled feedstocks are important to their manufacturing processes … all steel mills, for instance, require a certain percentage of recycled feedstock in order to manufacture new steel. AF&PA’s website talks about a fiber shortage that is met through recycling.
Plastics are an exception, I grant you - they are made from byproducts of the petroleum fuel industry, so it’s not like you’re saving petroleum by recycling them. However, you are putting fewer things in the landfill, and new products like decking materials and fleece clothing can be made from them.
Materials that are collected in recycling programs can end up in the landfill anyway, if people don’t follow the rules of the program. There comes a point where it isn’t worth it for the recycler to sort out the trash from the recyclables that were put in recycling bins, and the whole load gets trashed. However, if everyone pays attention to what CAN and CANNOT be recycled in their local recycling programs, the materials will actually be recycled. I refer you to the websites above and their discussions of how many tons of materials were recycled over the past few years.
**Winkie’s public service announcement ** - practice source reduction first, by purchasing only what you need, minimizing the amount of packaging you buy and using durable goods instead of disposables. You’ll save money and resources, and make less trash.
A quick note to astorian on preview - as a lightweight alternative to glass packaging, plastic is indeed more environmentally friendly. A number of years ago, a Tellus Institute study found that the lightest-weight packing is, in most cases, the best for the environment. It has to do with the amount of fuel required to transport the product and packaging, which when combined with the pollution produced by burning that fuel turns out to be the biggest environmental impact. It is, unfortunately, not so swell for recycling programs. Here in Indiana, though, market prices for recycled plastic are starting to rise.