I recycle. I believe we (humanity) waste a lot of energy on disposable plastics and packaging and that this has a significant impact on the environment. Yet I have a bit of nagging doubt about the benefit of recycling rolling around in the back of my brain and I can’t seem to shake it.
Magicians Penn and Teller did one of their HBO “Bullshit” series about recycling – strongly criticizing it, as they can only do in their humorous and often profane style. I chalk some of their views as mantra from the usual Libertarian sources (of which P&T are… the “flaming” kind). Still, as my wife often says, sometimes there is a “grain of truth” to an issue. And I think the grain of truth in the criticism of recycling is that it actually may be somewhat wasteful in itself.
Consider this: most people I know wash or rinse out their recycling before they put it in the recycle bin. Each time I rinse out my morning yogurt container, I wonder how much water I am wasting. Think about this for a moment – using pure, clean drinking water to rinse out a container that you are discarding. You know, many concerned scientists warn that the world may soon face a shortage of fresh water is poised to be the next global crisis.
I notice that I am using a lot of water on stuff I am throwing out – between glass and plastic, we fill a garbage can size recycling bin about every two months. I have been considering dumping the rinse water into a bucket so I can actually MEASURE how much water I am wasting on stuff I am throwing out.
Another thing "green" issue has been bothering me also – lighting. I've switched from incandescent to compact florescent light bulbs (CF). They are a bit annoying when you first turn them on as they have to warm up a minute or two before they reach full brightness. No big deal. But it turns out that burned-out compact florescent bulbs should not be tossed the trash as they contain toxic mercury. CF bulbs must be disposed of as “toxic waste”.
Some European countries have outlawed CF lights as has California (pretty close to European as Americans get). But, what is their plan for disposing of all the millions of dead CF bulbs and their dangerous component of mercury?
Another thing I notice during our weekly garbage pick up. Before recycling took off in the public consciousness, there was only one garbage truck coming through our neighborhood. Now there are two – that means double the impact, double the fuel, double the energy to make two vehicles, double the personnel to operate them. My garbage bill just increased this year.
I don’t know what the answer is. When I was a kid we had milk bottles which we took back to the store (after the Milk Man stopped delivering it to our porch weekly). The bottles would need to be washed, that would take water… and the bottle need to be transported. Which is more efficient and energy neutral - washing and reusing containers or washing and throwing away single use containers?
Maybe the key is not to create the packaging in the first place. For example, I hate buying two packages of five screws when I only need six. Likewise I hate having to get a pair of scissors to open a shrink wrapped package of compact fluorescent light bulbs.
I am starting to lean toward the thought that recycling just might indeed be Bullshit.