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Do you recycle?

Most people reading this right now have grown up in a society where we've been told that recycling is something that is very important... that's it's the right thing to do because it's good for our environment, saves money, saves resources, etc.  We've even been molded into thinking that those that don't recycle are lesser citizens because they are either lazy or just don't care about our society/environment.

Watching the “Recycling” episode of Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t the second time around caused the same exact mixed emotions as the first time around.  If what they are saying is true, we all should be knocking on some governmental doors and asking for some apologies (and possibly some refunds)...

One example: Paper.  Read the next sentence very carefully...

Most trees used today in the production of paper are specifically grown for the purpose of producing paper. 

So recycling paper doesn't necessarily “save trees“.  From one perspective, since trees are a replaceable commodity, if we need more then more will be planted based on demand.  So if you want more trees, use more paper.  Relatively weak argument since this doesn't consider the ecosystem, but for the sake of argument, we are talking about paper here, so let's look at it from another perspective. 

So let's go with the assumption that recycling doesn't necessarily save trees, but what's the harm in recycling paper?  Why destroy trees if we can reuse the already used resources?  Well, first, in order to recycle paper, you have to have people doing that job.  Someone has to pay those people.  Manufacturing processes have to be in place to recycle paper.  Chemicals must be used in the process.  The byproducts of these processes must be discarded (and are extremely toxic and damaging to the environment - chemicals such as ammonia).  Canisters using other valuable resources must be used to contain these byproducts.  These canisters then must be disposed of somewhere... and potentially monitored for possible leakage.  This all cost money...

If we just put this paper in the landfills and let it biodegrade naturally, what are the issues?    Well, since we no longer use lead based inks, not really any issue with chemical problems.  Since the paper is a biodegradable product, it will produce methane gasses that need to be handled.  Which, landfills today recycle these gasses to and usually get sold to power plants which end up becoming part of the municipal power supply.

I've met these guys... they are very intelligent and some of the most straight forward speakers I've ever seen.  I have not reason to think what they are saying isn't true or that they haven't done their due diligence in digging through the facts.

This time around, I decided to do some googling to find a report that they referenced.  “Eight Great Myths of Recycling” by Daniel K. Benjamin (summary available).  If you haven't seen this show, take the time to read through this document.  Sure, it's not as emotionally inspiring as Penn & Teller's show; but it sure does bring to light how much Bullsh*t we are being fed from the various sources on the subject of recycling.

Even as Penn & Teller stated, now that I've been informed... it's still hard for me to think that recycling is not the right thing to do.  I feel so violated...  Don't take my word for it, I am far from being an expert on this subject... read the document for yourself and feel free to let me know what you think.

NOTE: This is not to say that all recycling is bad.  In many cases recycling is a good thing, aluminum and other metals as an example.  However, the reasons that we've been told to recycle are, in many cases, false and this leads to money coming out of our pockets that really shouldn't be.  According to Penn & Teller, to the tune of EIGHT BILLION DOLLARS PER YEAR; if that's not enought to make you angry... your a better person than I ;-)

Additional Links:

ECOworld Recycling Myths
Penn and Teller take on recycling

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.