An older post of mine, Building A House With Found Materials, is still getting some attention. Commenter Amy Alkon asked the question:
Very interesting post. I was wondering, though, about the shocking remark about all trash, recycle-binned or not, going into the same landfill. I'm not informed about this -- just Googled it, and came up with some sites saying that is a myth; this one, for example: RecycleRaccoon. I'd just like to know the truth. Maybe it's true in some places, not in others?Amy's name sounded familiar, but I could not place it. If you click on her name, she has quite a little opinion empire going that does not appear to have suffered any from my unfamiliarity with it. Amy is pleasant and her question merits an answer. (Walter Olson of Overlawyered has also linked to it today.)
Here's what I said:
I've done more recycling than forty-five Ed Begleys, so I'll clue you in on a little secret: after you sort through your trash like a raccoon and put it on the curb to try to resurrect Bambi's mom through clean living, it all gets thrown in a landfill when you're not looking. It's a kabuki theater, not a real process.I see now that I was very inexact in that sentence. "All" recycled stuff is not landfilled, but an enormous portion of it is, and it is "all" thrown in together after they make you sort it out. And of course, it might get incinerated instead of buried, but the point stands. According to the video I'll post at the end of today's drivel, the New York Department of Sanitation says 40 percent of what you sort for recycling ends up all dumped together in the landfill. I suspect it's way more than that now, because in the current economic climate coupled with high gas prices, the price of collecting and hauling all that trash around has skyrocketed, and the price for the raw materials they would yield has plummeted. As I said, metal and a few other things are worth recycling. The rest is nonsense, and not just unproductive, but counterproductive.
It was amusing that Amy's link identifies themself as Recycle Raccoon, making my comment about picking through your trash like a raccoon all that much more trenchant, if I do say so myself. And then they go right along and re-describe the Kabuki theater of recycling I'd described, and blithely says that since the man in the trash clowncar picking up his recycling doesn't mix it all together right there on the curb, and doesn't put it in a big truck marked: Bound For A Big Hole In A Pristine Piping Plover Sanctuary, it must be taken somewhere and turned into something useful, thus saving all sorts of money and harp seals and so forth. Mr. or Ms. Raccoon seemed decidedly disinterested in what happens after their trash gets to the recycling center. Out of sight, and out of your mind.
Once the little trucks are full, they meet in a central location and sort the materials into the larger ‘mother trucks’. One big truck is filled with ONLY garbage and goes to the landfill. The other truck is filled with ONLY recyclables and comes to the MRF (Materials Recycling Facility). This large truck is divided down the middle: one side is filled with paper and the other side is filled with commingled recyclables (plastic #1 & plastic #2 bottles and jugs, aluminum cans, glass jars, and steel or tin cans).Well, only is written ONLY, so I guess that settles it. What you're going to get from the recycling cult is right there in the first sentence:
petitio principii : begging the question. That which is to be proved is explicitly assumed to be true already. Little elves don't come to the MRF at night and knit all that stuff into a daisy chain for Gaia after you leave. It has to go somewhere. And more often than not, unless you pay an enormous premium with your tax dollars for someone to take it off your hands, it will eventually be thrown all in together in a hole in the ground. Either that or the MRF, or any of the other giddy acronyms these facilities are prone to, will be abandoned as uneconomic and will become Superfund cleanup sites. Sorry if telling you that bums you out, but don't kill me, I'm just the piano player.
You see, when I said I'd recycled more than all those Ed Begleys, I meant it. I do not mean it as an appeal to superior credentials, but I've been a Division Manager for a large Environmental and Construction company before. We built landfills occasionally, so I knew for a fact that the recycling maven in the upcoming video was full of unrecycled merde when he says a landfill is just a hole in the ground with a 1/16" diaper in the bottom, well before Penn and Teller visited one and disproved it. And me and all the dozens of employees that worked for me, including a few environmental scientists, had all sorts of training and the resultant credentials to handle all sorts of waste. I've had hardcore RCRA training. I doubt anyone else I've mentioned has. And I've had profit and loss responsibility for the safe disposal of beaucoup tonnage of wood, glass, metals, plastics, paper, cardboard, soil, contaminated soil, concrete, bituminous concrete, tile, asbestos, lead, waste oil...
I'm sorry, the Internet is going to run out of pixels if I keep up like this. As I said:
Lots of stuff is worth recycling. It's very simple: if someone will pay you to take it, or at the very least defray the cost of disposal with the value of the material, it's worth recycling. Almost all metals fall into this category, for instance. No fair cheating with government funds.I'll give you an experiment you can try at home, whether you're a raccoon or not. Strip the aluminum siding off your house, or the copper wiring, or steal a few manhole covers, or rip out all your copper plumbing, or cut all the steel fenders off your Prius. Go to the Yellow Pages and find a scrapyard and go there. They will weigh those items on a big scale for you. You don't even have to get out of your now fenderless vehicle. They'll weigh your vehicle coming in and out and calculate the difference. They will count money in your hand, because that stuff is worth money.
Now bundle up your newspapers from the last thirty years, or all your milk jugs, or all your coffee grinds, or whatever floats your boat. Now I want you to start driving from recycling center to recycling center, paper mill to paper mill -- all those places you currently imagine are just dying to get your assorted sorted stuff -- and try to find someone that won't charge you to accept it.
No matter how many years it takes, call me from whatever landfill you're at when you finally give up and pay to dump it. And then take my advice and simply stop wasting stuff, including time and money -- especially other people's time and money.
Anyway, Penn and Teller actually have a much more amusing (if more strident than I like) take on the question. They're prone to some salty language, so be warned:
[Ragman Update here]