Recycling anyone?

Dear Readers,

I ran across this graph today (see below). It lists the countries that recycle the greatest quantities of their waste. I wasn’t particularly interested in the fact that the United States was only 18th on the list. What caught my eye was the country at the bottom of the list.

I have been fortunate to have been invited to lecture in many beautiful locations around the world. (If you are interested they are listed in curriculum vitae published as my “first post.”) The country with the lowest ranking among the nations in the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development gets my vote for the most beautiful place I have ever been. Not only is it the lowest ranking nation – IT DOESN’T RECYCLE! That nation is New Zealand.

If you enjoyed the scenic beauty in the movie, Lord of the Rings, that is New Zealand and that is exactly how it looks when one visits. Everywhere I went the environment around me could only be described as pristine. There wasn’t any litter or scars on the land. The air was clean. And I traveled the two islands reasonably extensively having been there more than once.


The graph and the New Zealand observation induced me to re-post an earlier treatise on recycling.

Roy Filly

Do you recycle?

Posted on October 10, 2015by Roy Filly

Do you recycle? I do. But I must admit, that my dear wife was the major impetus for my doing so with the vigor I apply to the task. However, my best friend (and one the smartest people I know) has been telling me for years that it is worse than a waste of time. It is inimical to our best interests – it wastes time, money and is counterproductive.

This is a standard “feel good” progressive/statist/altruist project. “Save the planet!” “Stop defiling the scenery with landfills!” It all sounds pretty good. And, of course, another standard progressive/statist/altruist tactic is to codify into a law! So it matters little whether one thinks it’s a good idea or not. Beware the green police! They don’t carry guns and there’s no police academy to train them, but if you don’t recycle your trash properly, they can walk up your driveway and give you a $100 ticket. They know what’s in your trash, they know what you eat, they know how often you bring your recycles to the curb — and they may be coming to your town soon. That is, if they’re not already there.

While politicians set higher and higher goals, the national rate of recycling has stagnated in recent years. It is popular in trendy, expensive neighborhoods but not so much in the remainder of the nation. Nonetheless, recycling has been relentlessly promoted as a goal in and of itself: an unalloyed public good and private virtue. We indoctrinate students from kindergarten through college. As a result, otherwise well-informed and educated people have no idea of the relative costs and benefits.

For example, composting – rapidly gaining in popularity among the environmental elites – is a “NIMBY” – not in my back yard. Composting facilities around the country have inspired complaints about nauseating odorsswarming rats and defecating sea gulls. After New York City started sending food waste to be composted in Delaware, the unhappy neighbors of the composting plant successfully campaigned to shut it down last year.

[Source: The Reign of Recycling, by John Tierney and Recycling: The triumph of feel-goodism over common sense, by Daniel J. Mitchell]

[From the Tierney article] If you live in the United States, you probably do some form of recycling. It’s likely that you separate paper from plastic and glass and metal. You rinse the bottles and cans, and you might put food scraps in a container destined for a composting facility. As you sort everything into the right bins, you probably assume that recycling is helping your community and protecting the environment. But is it? Are you in fact wasting your time?

In 1996, I wrote a long article for The New York Times Magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful. I presented plenty of evidence that recycling was costly and ineffectual, but its defenders said that it was unfair to rush to judgment. Noting that the modern recycling movement had really just begun just a few years earlier, they predicted it would flourish as the industry matured and the public learned how to recycle properly.

So, what’s happened since then? While it’s true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line, both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all.

Despite decades of exhortations and mandates, it’s still typically more expensive for municipalities to recycle household waste than to send it to a landfill. Prices for recyclable materials have plummeted because of lower oil prices and reduced demand for them overseas. The slump has forced some recycling companies to shut plants and cancel plans for new technologies. The mood is so gloomy that one industry veteran tried to cheer up her colleagues this summer with an article in a trade journal titled,“Recycling Is Not Dead!”

The future for recycling looks even worse. As cities move beyond recycling paper and metals, and into glass, food scraps and assorted plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits decline and sometimes vanish. “If you believe recycling is good for the planet and that we need to do more of it, then there’s a crisis to confront,” says David P. Steiner, the chief executive officer of Waste Management, the largest recycler of household trash in the United States. “Trying to turn garbage into gold costs a lot more than expected. We need to ask ourselves: What is the goal here?”

Most of the arguments “for” recycling are somewhat wanting when analyzed. Decreasing “landfills” is a common one. One of the original goals of the recycling movement was to avert a supposed crisis because there was no room left in the nation’s landfills. However, all the trash generated by Americans for the next 1,000 years would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the land available for grazing. And that tiny amount of land wouldn’t be lost forever, because landfills are typically covered with grass and converted to parkland. Many of the environmentally friendly San Franciscans might be shocked to learn that their million dollar condo is built on landfill (see below). The pink areas are all new landfill. I go to work in the new UCSF hospital (Mission Bay) built on this landfill.

Reducing “carbon emissions is commonly cited. [From the Tierney article] They probably don’t know, for instance, that to reduce carbon emissions, you’ll accomplish a lot more by sorting paper and aluminum cans than by worrying about yogurt containers and half-eaten slices of pizza. Most people also assume that recycling plastic bottles must be doing lots for the planet. They’ve been encouraged by the Environmental Protection Agency, which assures the public that recycling plastic results in less carbon being released into the atmosphere.

But how much difference does it make? Here’s some perspective: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in business- or first-class, where each passenger takes up more space, it could be more like 100,000.(There are at least 10 flights per day to and from London and New York with hundreds of passengers on each flight – RF).

Progressive/statist/altruists have managed through their relentless chatter to turn recycling into a ritual – a mandatory ritual in most instances. One no longer needs to have a practical justification for the believers who perform theses rituals voluntarily.

You will enjoy reading these articles although they are far too long to reproduce hear. (Tierney articleMitchell article.) And you will also enjoy the footnote extracted from the Mitchell article. Some of these guys are plain nuts!

Roy Filly


Reasons to be skeptical of some environmentalists. Simply stated, too many of these people are nuts.



About Roy Filly

Please read my first blog in which I describe myself and my goals.
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