Reduce, reuse but don’t always recycle

December 9, 2009

It would be difficult to counter the contention that reducing what you use and reusing what you can is better for the environment than consuming and dumping more.

But the environmental and economic benefits of the third R in the environmental mantra – reduce, reuse, recycle are more questionable.

Marion Shore of the Waitaki Resource Recovery Centre reckons recycling is like aspirin for the headache of over consumption.

In talking Sense on recycling Offsetting Behaviour questions the cost of recycling.

He also quotes Kevin Libin in the National Post who finds that claims on the benefits of recycling often fail on both economic and environmental grounds.

San Francisco’s Department of Waste recently calculated it paid $4,000 a tonne to recycle plastic bags. Its resale price for the recycled product? $32. . .  “Besides the financial, the economic cost, you’ve got the environmental cost” of recycling unwanted material. “The trucks running out there, burning fuel … you have to use energy, you’ve got CO2 emissions.”

That’s why curbside recycling requires, wherever it’s implemented, millions of tax dollars to stay afloat: the inputs required are greater than the savings.. . . 

Often the effects of aggressive residential recycling programs harm environmental goals. Citywide blue box programs typically mean a whole new fleet of trucks: Calgary now has 64 more diesel-burning rigs retracing the same tracks its garbage trucks did just a few days earlier, roughly doubling carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants.

Libin gives several more examples of how the benefits of recycling don’t stack up and quotes a study which found that incinerating rubbish with energy recovery was often a better option than recycling.

The article is worth reading in full and confirms my contention that there are good reasons to reduce and reuse but there are serious questions about the benefits of recycling.

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