Mandatory recycling is the least effective way to take care of the nation’s trash and it is getting more expensive by the day. One of the least reported stories this past year is that China has stopped taking our recyclables.
Yes, you thought you were helping the environment by meticulously separating your garbage into piles and placing paper, plastic and cans into separate bins to be recycled only to learn that much of it had to be shipped halfway around the world to be disposed. How does that make sense?
Now that China has stopped accepting our recyclables, we are still shipping some of it overseas to places like Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, India and Indonesia.
Historically we have shipped a third of our recyclables abroad. However, some of these countries are getting smart. Instead of paying us pennies on the ton for our trash, they are imposing import taxes on this junk. However, the dirty little secret is that since China’s ban, much of our recyclables are piling up while waste companies look for outlets where they can dispose of them cheaply. Others companies are simply sending them to landfills, which is more cost-effective than shipping it overseas.
So what about the landfill crises? Aren’t we running out of space? Not at all. It has been estimated that all of the trash created by America over the next 1,000 years would fit on one tenth of one percent of the space free for grazing. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/04/opinion/sunday/the-reign-of-recycling.html?
In fact, J. Winston Porter, the former EPA official who helped create the landfill crises, now says, “It only makes sense to recycle commercial cardboard and some paper, as well as selected metals and plastics.” I would emphasize that the operative word is “selected.”
What about all those plastics? Aren’t they a threat to the environment? In many ways, plastics are better for the environment than other alternatives because they are more efficient and use less energy during production and transport.https://cei.org/blog/five-reasons-banning-plastics-may-harm-environment-and-consumers
This emphasis on recycling was never about space, it was about politics. It was popular to run for office against waste. Though the number of landfills is shrinking, the size of the existing landfills is much larger and quite different than the local garbage dumps of old. They are no longer a threat to the environment or to public health. In fact, modern state-of-the-art landfills are beautiful things. Many are turned into parks for children and recreation centers.
There are three types of landfills: inert landfills for earth-like products that biodegrade, construction landfills and municipal solid waste landfills with redundant clay, plastic liners, and leachate collection systems.
The breakdown of bacteria in this last category forms gas, which is now being used for energy. Yes, of all things, this gas is now being converted to an environmentally friendly energy resource that reduces our reliance on fossil fuels, such as coal and oil. According to the EPA, the number of landfill gas projects in the United States increased from 399 in 2005, to 594 in 2012. https://www.epa.gov/lmop These are popular projects because they not only control energy costs, but reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We should be celebrating that fact along with American ingenuity. However, the mainstream media is reluctant to publicize it. Why? Fundraising might dry up for liberal politicians who have been hyping this non-emergency. Also, the government might cut the funds for environmental groups that have been making money by indoctrinating our school children into believing they are saving the world by recycling.
While there is a certain feel-good component about separating your trash and taking it down to the recycling centers, some cities have mandated that households separate their garbage for curbside pickup. This is the most wasteful practice of all. These cities now send out three different trucks and crews to do the work previously done by one. When you consider the amount of energy used to run these trucks, not to mention the energy burned in the process of manufacturing the additional vehicles, you begin to get the picture.
So what about recycling? Should we abandon the practice? Of course not. We should stop mandating the practice and let the free market take over. The most cost effective recycling programs will continue as they have since the beginning of time. It has been said that private recycling is the world’s second oldest profession. We used to call it scavenging. Never fear. Things of value like metals, cardboard and wood will continue to be recycled because it makes sense, dollars and cents.