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Is recycling BS?

casaguy

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Like a good Torontonian I religiously recycle everything that I can and feel guilty when I throw out something that should probably have been washed out and thrown into one of the recycling bins. But I've often wondered if it really matters.

I came across this episode of Penn & Teller's show called "Bullshit" where they tackle the concept of recycling and it has definitely given me pause for thought.

I highly recommend watching it (it is in 3 parts). I'm curious what many of you would have to say after watching it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHAuU5JjRyQ&feature=related
 

smuncky

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pretty interesting episode. there's definitely 2 sides to this issue, just like global warming.

this video is a good start in trying to get people to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. i think that they give some facts and figures that could be used as a starting point for some independent research at the library or on the internet to get more informed about the issue.

thanks for the video casaguy. i'll definitely be passing it on.
 

Hipster Duck

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In a lot of cases recycling is definitely not BS. It takes 19X as much energy to make an aluminum can from scratch as it does to recycle one. Sometimes recycling is uncompetitive only because producing/manufacturing the virgin material is so heavily subsidized. For example, Hydro Quebec sells electricity to Alcan's smelters at 1.5 cents/kWh while the rest of us pay between 5 and 10 cents/kWh. Especially with respect to metals, I think there is increasing merit in recycling with rising commodity prices. With paper, we should also consider the non-monetary ancillary benefits a tree provides beside wood and paper, such as nutrient and water cycling and the provision of oxygen.

However, I'm not a strong advocate of plastic recycling, especially because it mostly involves "downcycling" - recycling something into a material of lesser quality. PET bottles, for example, are turned into park benches and other low-value plastic products.
 

Long Island Mike

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If you don't recycle...

Everyone: I am a proponent of recycling-in my area here on LI it is mandatory to recycle materials like glass,metal like cans,paper and plastic.
I take part and recycle as much as possible.

Back in 1987 a bargeload of Town of Islip,LI waste took a trip around the waterways of the Eastern USA because of denials to take the waste. The Garbage Barge fiasco became national news - and an embarassment. As a resident of that area,it showed me that recycling is better then dumping anyday.

I feel that as said elsewhere that if you do not recycle you are throwing it all away! It definitely is NOT BS! LI MIKE
 

casaguy

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The aluminum can was the only example they gave that was actually worth recycling. Everything else creates more waste and emissions than starting from scratch.

Long Island Mike,

The barge that you speak of to defend your point is the same barge that they use in the show to defend their point. Interesting.
 

GraphicMatt

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pretty interesting episode. there's definitely 2 sides to this issue, just like global warming.

this video is a good start in trying to get people to think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. i think that they give some facts and figures that could be used as a starting point for some independent research at the library or on the internet to get more informed about the issue.

thanks for the video casaguy. i'll definitely be passing it on.
Oh c'mon, that continual "there has to be two sides to every issue" posturing is why a network like FOX news was so easily able to bully their way to the top. Suddenly we always have to give equal time to some 'other side' in the interest of balance, even if the other side is almost entirely comprised of cranks and out-of-touch people.

Yes, there is a level of subjectivity to truth, but it's not a zero-sum game. Just because *I* believe that the moon exists doesn't mean we need to also give spotlight to someone who believes the moon is nothing more than a cheese-flavoured hologram.

There's obviously efficiencies that need to be improved when it comes to recycling (especially with glass), but that hardly makes it 'BS'. Landfill space is at a premium, particularly in cities, and shipping garbage further and further out isn't going to get any cheaper with today's fuel prices. Long-term, recycling is the only real solution we have to that problem.
 

casaguy

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Although you couldn't pay me to watch Fox News, there usually are other sides to the story.

I'm not sure comparing the cheese-filled moon argument to someone who's questioning the logic of recycling programs is fair.

In theory, the concept of "recycling" is of course absolutely logical. But are our recycling programs actually recycling in the way that we assume they are?

Hey, I'm still a devout recycler... but I'm just wondering.
 

GraphicMatt

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Although you couldn't pay me to watch Fox News, there usually are other sides to the story.

I'm not sure comparing the cheese-filled moon argument to someone who's questioning the logic of recycling programs is fair.

In theory, the concept of "recycling" is of course absolutely logical. But are our recycling programs actually recycling in the way that we assume they are?

Hey, I'm still a devout recycler... but I'm just wondering.
It depends on the issue, really. When someone starts complaining about a need to present "the other side of the issue" when it comes to things like evolutionary theory, climate change, homosexuality and the moon landing, I have to roll my eyes. How much credibility do we give the "other side" when it's not backed by research, history, logic or the scientific method?

But anyway, there's a good site here that talks about a lot of the common anti-recycling claims and why they're pretty dubious: http://www.edf.org/documents/611_ACF17F.htm.

And here's a site that actually debunks one of the claims made in the P&T episode: http://www.de-fact-o.com/fact_read.php?id=62

Penn & Teller are funny, sure, but their show has a decidedly Libertarian and sensationalist bent that kind of rubs me wrong the way. I liked their episodes on things like Alternative Medicine and Alien Abductions, but they really missed the mark on issues like recycling and second-hand smoke.
 

Hydrogen

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It depends on the issue, really. When someone starts complaining about a need to present "the other side of the issue" when it comes to things like evolutionary theory, climate change, homosexuality and the moon landing, I have to roll my eyes. How much credibility do we give the "other side" when it's not backed by research, history, logic or the scientific method?

But anyway, there's a good site here that talks about a lot of the common anti-recycling claims and why they're pretty dubious: http://www.edf.org/documents/611_ACF17F.htm.

And here's a site that actually debunks one of the claims made in the P&T episode: http://www.de-fact-o.com/fact_read.php?id=62
Yes, it does depend on the issue, and that's why its bad to lump a whole bunch of disparate topics together as you have. It suggests that to question one is to question all of them.

For example, there is considerable criticism and debate on the issues surrounding human causes of climate change. In fact, the use of the term climate change has largely become political in that a successful campaign by environmentalists has instilled a notion that the source is human, when in fact changes in climate have always occurred over the history of the planet. They are a constant and not an exception.

Climate research has nothing to do with homosexuality or worries over moon landing hoaxes. Lumping "debates" together is not helpful.

As for picking sides, the Environmental Defence Fund is hardly a paragon of scientific neutrality. It is a political organization. The document you cite has picked its own side on the issues as well. You can quickly go through its lists of "myths" and easily see that in many instances, the stance is not well defended.

As for the web page that cites that recycling paper pollutes more than making new paper as being false, it glosses over a number of important issues. There are thousands of paper products out there, and hundreds of inks, treatments and finishes that can contribute to the effluents produced in the paper recycling process. Conversely, there are methods for making new paper that produce far less bi-products than older methods. But then again, it depends on the paper being produced. Also, it must be noted that paper is not eternally recyclable. There will always be new paper production.

With respect to recycling, the reuse of metals has had a long and successful history. That being said, there is nothing wrong with examining the claims made for or against other types of recycling. Maybe the present approach is not the best approach with respect to certain materials. Also, there is nothing wrong with the approach of designing and using materials in the production of goods that can be easily recycled for later uses. If one really wants recycling to be a success, that is always a valid first step.
 

EnviroTO

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There are a numbers of issues with the show.

Firstly, the idea that doing something good should automatically be profitable. Of course dumping is the most affordable thing to do. Zero energy spent. Drop your garbage where you stand?

Secondly, the idea that landfill space is growing so no problem. Well the only way landfill space available grows is by dedicating more land towards landfill. So if we declare the area under our feet landfill problem solved?

Thirdly, recycling paper does save trees. Virgin forests are important because that is where all the wildlife is and the vegetation is in its natural balance. Large trees require a long time to grow to the point the lumber industry would harvest it. Having a whole bunch of christmas trees in a field with no other natural vegetation is a poor substitute for a forest.

Fourthly, that transport of recyclables is a huge additional expense. The issue with this is that fuel consumption and the number of times a truck needs to visit a neighbourhood and return to base is related to how much gets picked up. If recycling reduces garbage by 30%, the garbage truck could either be hauling 30% less or showing up 30% less.

There are issues with most of their points but recycling is certainly not BS.

Can we do better? Of course. We could get rid of hard to recycle plastics in favour of more easily recycled ones. We could reduce consumption which always reduces waste.
 

BuildTO

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The video depicts the general public as unquestioning fools, and purports to reveal the truth. Unfortunately, most of what is presented in the video is more questionable and begs further examination.

The "experts" who are pro-recycling are portrayed as idiots and their views are dismissed by using "experts" whose views we are supposed to take as fact, and trust without question. Penn ridicules pro-environmentalists in the worst tone, name-calling and swearing (which normally doesn't bother me, but in this case comes across as an 11 year-old who is trying to impress).

Many of Penn's assumptions ring false for me; is there a difference in the way recycling is promoted to Americans? I have never assumed recycling saves money. I've always believed that it is for the common good to spend more on recycling if it will reduce the amount of garbage going to landfill. And with Toronto's issues of having to find a location for landfill, that has always been a big issue.

Most of our paper comes from tree farms? What about furniture and construction? Penn simply implies that tree farms are the answer to everything, as if everything were fine and no more trees were being cut down. The implication seems to be that we can all stop recycling - the alternative being to start throwing everything away again.

The multi-coloured recycling bin stunt shows that Americans care about addressing the very real problem of waste. Yet it is presented as proof of gullibility, as if that were the main problem behind recycling.

There may be a reason to look at how efficient recycling is - and I think we have already started. I started hearing long ago that we need to rely more on reusing instead of recycling, in order to help the environment. But Penn and Teller seem to have no interest in real answers.

There's half an hour of my life I'll never get back.
 

casaguy

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Quite a varied reaction to the episode. It's clear many of us are quite passionate about recycling... This almost felt like a discussion on religion.
 

Prometheus The Supremo

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there are certainly issues with recycling. i've heard cases from people that used to work at recycling facilities that entire heaps of recyclable materials such as plastic bottles were thrown away with the regular trash because there was too much to process. IMO, one of the unintended consequences of the feel good recycling movement is that more people will consume products such as bottled water because they believe the bottles will get recycled anyway and there is no problem. it's creating an era of careless consumption.

one issue i have noticed with the implementation of our new blue bin system is that it now takes around three times as long for the truck to empty the bins on my street. i hope someone at the city is keeping an eye on fuel consumption and comparing it to the old system to see which uses more fuel.
i think the one bin system is great because it is easier for the homeowner but i was hoping it would have been a quicker more efficient process. as it is now, that's not the case. the worker has to roll the bin to the back of the truck, attach it to a lift, make it go up to dump, make it go back down and then roll the bin back.



also, with regards to paper production, responsible industry doesn't use giant trees from the rainforest to make paper. (if anyone does that, they're really dumb) most of the wood that is used to make paper is the branches that can't be used to make dimensional lumber.
 

rbt

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one issue i have noticed with the implementation of our new blue bin system is that it now takes around three times as long for the truck to empty the bins on my street. i hope someone at the city is keeping an eye on fuel consumption and comparing it to the old system to see which uses more fuel.
i think the one bin system is great because it is easier for the homeowner but i was hoping it would have been a quicker more efficient process. as it is now, that's not the case. the worker has to roll the bin to the back of the truck, attach it to a lift, make it go up to dump, make it go back down and then roll the bin back.
The one bin system has do to with lawsuits and insurance costs. Employees were getting hurt doing all that lifting, now a machine does the lifting.
 

BuildTO

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there are certainly issues with recycling. i've heard cases from people that used to work at recycling facilities that entire heaps of recyclable materials such as plastic bottles were thrown away with the regular trash because there was too much to process.
I remember hearing that, years ago.

The worse problem, IMO, is - having worked irregular hours in a couple of offices - seeing cleaning staff dumping the recycling in with the garbage. I wonder how often that happens...

IMO, one of the unintended consequences of the feel good recycling movement is that more people will consume products such as bottled water because they believe the bottles will get recycled anyway and there is no problem. it's creating an era of careless consumption.
That's a really good point.
 
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