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PostPosted: Sun Jan 08, 2006 4:37 pm
 


This is quite an eye opener, I must say, but it's a good argument, and I figured it'd stir the pot a little:

The Eight Myths of Recycling
By Daniel Benjamin


Garbage is the unavoidable by-product of production and consumption. There are three ways to deal with it, all known and used since antiquity: dumping, burning, and recycling. For thousands of years it was commonplace to dump rubbish on site--on the floor, or out the window. Scavenging domestic animals, chiefly pigs and dogs, consumed the edible parts, and poor people salvaged what they could. The rest was covered and built upon.

Eventually, humans began to use more elaborate methods of dealing with their rubbish. The first modern incinerator (called a "destructor") went into operation in Nottingham, England in 1874. After World War II, landfills became the accepted means of dealing with trash. The modern era of the recycling craze can be traced to 1987, when the garbage barge Mobro 4000 had to spend two months touring the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico before it found a home for its load. The Environmental Defense Fund, the National Solid Waste Management Association (whose members were anxious to line up new customers for their expanding landfill capacity), the press, and finally the Environmental Protection Agency, spun the story of a garbage crisis out of control. By 1995, the majority of Americans thought trash was our number one environmental problem--with 77 percent reporting that increased recycling of household rubbish was the solution. Yet these claims and fears were based on errors and misinformation, which I have compiled into the Eight Great Myths of Recycling.

Myth 1: Our Garbage Will Bury Us

Fact: Even though the United States is larger, more affluent, and producing more garbage, it now has more landfill capacity that ever before. The erroneous opposite impression comes from old studies that counted the number of landfills (which has declined) rather than landfill capacity (which has grown). There are a few places, like New Jersey, where capacity has shrunk. But the uneven distribution of landfill space is no more important than the uneven distribution of automobile manufacturing. Perhaps the most important fact is this: If we permitted our rubbish to grow to the height of New York City's famous Fresh Kills landfill (225 feet), a site only about 10 miles on a side could hold all of America's garbage for the next century.

Myth 2: Our Garbage Will Poison Us

Fact: Almost anything can pose a theoretical threat, but evidence of actual harm from landfills is almost non-existent, as the Environmental Protection Agency itself acknowledges. The EPA has concluded that landfills constructed according to agency regulations can be expected to cause a total of 5.7 cancer-related deaths over the next 300 years. It isn't household waste, but improperly or illegally dumped industrial wastes that can be harmful. Household recycling programs have no effect on those wastes, a fact ignored by messianic proponents of recycling.

Myth 3: Our Packaging Is Immoral

Fact: Many people argue that the best way to "save landfill space" is to reduce the amount of packaging Americans use, via mandatory controls. But packaging can actually reduce total garbage produced and total resources used. The average American family generates fully one third less trash than does the average Mexican household. The reason is that our intensive use of packaging yields less spoilage and breakage, thereby saving resources, and producing, on balance, less total rubbish. Careful packaging also reduces food poisoning and other health problems.

Over the past 25 years, market incen-tives have already reduced the weights of individual packages by 30 to 70 percent. An average aluminum can weighed nearly 21 grams in 1972; in 2002, that same can weighs in at under 14 grams. A plastic grocery sack was 2.3 mils thick in 1976; by 2001, it was a mere 0.7 mils.

By contrast, the environmentally sensitive New York Times has been growing. A year's worth of the newspaper now weighs 520 pounds and occupies more than 40 cubic feet in a landfill. This is equivalent in weight to 17,180 aluminum cans--nearly a century's worth of beer and soft drink consumption by one person. Clearly, people anxious to heal Mother Earth must forego the Times!

Myth 4: We Must Achieve "Trash Independence"

Fact: Garbage has become an inter-state business, with 47 states exporting the stuff and 45 importing it. Environ-mentalists contend that each state should dispose within its borders all the trash produced within its borders. But why? Transporting garbage across an arbitrary legal boundary has no effect on the envi-ronmental impact of the disposal of that material. Moving a ton of trash is no more hazardous than moving a ton of any other commodity.

Myth 5: We're Squandering Irreplaceable Resources

Fact: Thanks to numerous innovations, we now produce about twice as much output per unit of energy as we did 50 years ago, and five times as much as we did 200 years ago. Automobiles use only half as much metal as in 1970, and one optical fiber carries the same number of calls as 625 copper wires did 20 years ago. Bridges are built with less steel, because steel is stronger and engineering is improved. Automobile and truck engines consume less fuel per unit of work performed, and produce fewer emissions.

To address the issue of paper, the most-promoted form of recycling: The amount of new growth that occurs each year in forests is more than 20 times the number of trees consumed by the world each year for wood and paper. Where loss of forest land is taking place, as in tropical rain forests, it can be traced directly to a lack of private property rights. Governments have used forests, especially the valuable tropical ones, as an easy way to raise quick cash. Wherever private property rights to forests are well-defined and enforced, forests are either stable or growing. More recycling of paper or cardboard would not eliminate tropical forest losses.

Myth 6: Recycling Always Protects the Environment

Fact: Recycling is a manufacturing process, and therefore it too has environ-mental impact. The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment says that it is "not clear whether secondary manufacturing [i.e., recycling] produces less pollution per ton of material processed than primary manufacturing." Recycling merely changes the nature of pollution--sometimes decreasing it, and sometimes increasing it.

This effect is particularly apparent in the case of curbside recycling, which is mandated or strongly encouraged by governments in many communities around the country. Curbside recycling requires that more trucks be used to collect the same amount of waste materials. Instead of one truck picking up 40 pounds of garbage, one will pick up four pounds of recyclables and a second will collect 36 pounds of rubbish.

Los Angeles has estimated that due to curbside recycling, its fleet of trucks is twice as large as it otherwise would be--800 vs. 400 trucks. This means more iron ore and coal mining, more steel and rub-ber manufacturing, more petroleum extracted and refined for fuel--and of course all that extra air pollution in the Los Angeles basin as the 400 added trucks cruise the streets.

Myth 7: Recycling Saves Resources

Fact: Using less of one resource usually means using more of another. Curbside recycling is substantially more costly and uses far more resources than a program in which disposal is combined with a voluntary drop-off/buy-back option. The reason: Curbside recycling of household rubbish uses huge amounts of capital and labor per pound of material recycled. Overall, curbside recycling costs between 35 and 55 percent more than simply disposing of the item. It typically wastes resources.

In the ordinary course of daily living, we already reuse most higher value items. The only things that intentionally end up in the trash are both low in value and costly to reuse or recycle. Yet these are the items that municipal recycling programs are targeting--the very things that consumers have already decided are too worthless or costly to deal with further. All of the profitable, socially productive opportunities for recycling were long ago co-opted by the private sector, because they pay back. The bulk of all curbside recycling programs simply waste resources.

Myth 8: Without Forced Mandates, There Wouldn't Be Any Recycling

Fact: Long before state or local governments had even contemplated the word recycling, the makers of steel, aluminum, and thousands of other products were recycling manufacturing scraps. Some operated post-consumer drop-off centers. As for the claim that the private sector promotes premature or excessive disposal, this ignores an enormous body of evidence to the contrary. Firms only survive in the marketplace if they take into account all costs. Fifty years ago, when labor was cheap compared to materials, goods were built to be repaired, so that the expensive materials could be used for a longer period of time. As the price of labor has risen and the cost of materials has fallen, manufacturers have responded by building items to be used until they break, and then discarded. There is no bias against recycling; there is merely a market-driven effort to conserve the most valuable resources.

Informed, voluntary recycling con-serves resources and raises our wealth, enabling us to achieve valued ends that would otherwise be impossible. Mandatory programs, however, in which people are directly or indirectly compelled to do what they know is not sensible, routinely make society worse off. Such programs force people to squander valuable resources in a quixotic quest to save what they would sensibly discard.

Except in a few rare cases, the free market is eminently capable of providing both disposal and recycling in an amount and mix that creates the greatest wealth for society. This makes possible the widest and most satisfying range of human endeavors. Simply put, market prices are sufficient to induce the trash-man to come, and to make his burden bearable, and neither he nor we can hope for any better than that.

Daniel Benjamin is a professor at Clemson University and a senior associate at PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center.


This article was found here, and the full report can be found here.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 1:12 pm
 


The problem with it seems to be that recycling is worse in many cases that just throwing something in the garbage... The only case that I saw mentioned where this wasn't the case was aluminum cans (for the general public, but aluminum in general) - it's actually worth recycling, and that's why you get money for returning cans. I'm don't think it's the same for bottles because you're only getting back half of the deposit the government made you pay in the first place (likely to cover the costs of the otherwise uneconomical recycling of glass).


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 3:49 pm
 


The writer does not seem familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- a dismayingly common trait of those that call themselves experts in environmental policy. Consumption degrades the environment. That's the way it is and there is no getting around it.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 3:58 pm
 


Many cities have so much recycled glass that they have to put it in cement and asphalt to get rid of it!


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:02 pm
 


What's wrong with that? Does it degrade the quality of the asphalt? Seems a better use than sitting in a landfill...


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:02 pm
 


Zipperfish wrote:
The writer does not seem familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- a dismayingly common trait of those that call themselves experts in environmental policy. Consumption degrades the environment. That's the way it is and there is no getting around it.



Yes, but the point is that the consumption is not reduced by recycling, it only changes forms, and not necessarily less harmful forms.

It takes a lot of energy and materials to break down plastics, paper, etc etc etc to be recycled, and those energies and materials come from the same places they do in the primary manufacturing processes.

You can't just apply thermo's 2nd to something as complex as this that easily... not to mention the fact that "degrades", while having a typically negative connotation, may be a very trivial characteristic if you consider the pertinent effects.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:05 pm
 


ManifestDestiny wrote:
Many cities have so much recycled glass that they have to put it in cement and asphalt to get rid of it!


That's why the lines reflect your headlights at night...it's added to the paint.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:05 pm
 


Zipperfish wrote:
What's wrong with that? Does it degrade the quality of the asphalt? Seems a better use than sitting in a landfill...


it would be used in place of aggregate (rocks), which would serve no better sitting in the ground than glass would... it's just matter.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:15 pm
 


Blue_Nose wrote:
Zipperfish wrote:
The writer does not seem familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics -- a dismayingly common trait of those that call themselves experts in environmental policy. Consumption degrades the environment. That's the way it is and there is no getting around it.



Yes, but the point is that the consumption is not reduced by recycling, it only changes forms, and not necessarily less harmful forms.

It takes a lot of energy and materials to break down plastics, paper, etc etc etc to be recycled, and those energies and materials come from the same places they do in the primary manufacturing processes.

You can't just apply thermo's 2nd to something as complex as this that easily... not to mention the fact that "degrades", while having a typically negative connotation, may be a very trivial characteristic if you consider the pertinent effects.


First, let's specify that the writer is putting forth a policy position, as opposed ot a science position. There's not much science in the article, and he makes gross generalizations (household waste can't be harmful, shipping waste is no more or less hazardous that shipping product). Basically, the writer is approaching from an Objectivist policy standpoint (the key to the problem can be found in the correct assignation of property rights). I don't disagree with the writer that this would help immensely , but the devil is in the details.

You are correct that it takes a lot of energy to break down plastics etc, and this is precisely why the Sewcond Law of Thermodynamics needs to be applied. All energy is not created equally. Some energy is of higher quality (i.e. lower entropy) than others. You need to do this calculation (often referred to as an exergy analysis or a Second Law analysis.

For instance, heat (a low quality energy) is a by-product of natural gas electricity generation (electricity being a high quality energy). If this "waste heat," as it is often called, is used as to thermally break down plastics, then in effect you are using a recycled energy stream to create a recycled product stream. That's where a Second Law analysis comes in handy. Instead of product and waste, you have a contijnuum of high quality to low quality, which is amuch mroe refined approach.

Increasing consumption will increase degradation of the environment -- there's no way around that (again, that's the Second Law). We can minimize the damage, or control where the degradation takes place, but only to an extent. There is no such thing as a win-win scenario when it comes to organziation of human systems (e.g. society, industry) and the environment.


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 4:24 pm
 


That'd be great if recycling used waste energy, or green energy, or anything other than the same processes used in the initial manufacturing. But they are using the same processes, and it's more effort to collect and transport the recycling material and convert them to other useful substances than it is to just turf them.

Ever seen a "full" landfill? It's usually a park, or a golf course.... very nice spot.

You still haven't convinced me that "degrading" the environment, in terms of entropy, has any real and significant effect on it. Should they start issuing "low entropy" warnings on the radio when it starts dipping?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 5:37 pm
 


Blue_Nose wrote:
Myth 2: Our Garbage Will Poison Us

Fact: Almost anything can pose a theoretical threat, but evidence of actual harm from landfills is almost non-existent, as the Environmental Protection Agency itself acknowledges. The EPA has concluded that landfills constructed according to agency regulations can be expected to cause a total of 5.7 cancer-related deaths over the next 300 years. It isn't household waste, but improperly or illegally dumped industrial wastes that can be harmful. Household recycling programs have no effect on those wastes, a fact ignored by messianic proponents of recycling.


Proving that garbage is not carcinogeous does not prove that it is not poisonous. The two are different notions all together. A chemical does not need to cause cancer in order to kill wild life, nor would it in order to make the ground unusable for many purposes.

Furthermore landfill sites are typically unsuitable for construction because it creates a poor foundation. So it truly does remove the land from use.

Quote:
Myth 3: Our Packaging Is Immoral

Fact: Many people argue that the best way to "save landfill space" is to reduce the amount of packaging Americans use, via mandatory controls. But packaging can actually reduce total garbage produced and total resources used. The average American family generates fully one third less trash than does the average Mexican household. The reason is that our intensive use of packaging yields less spoilage and breakage, thereby saving resources, and producing, on balance, less total rubbish. Careful packaging also reduces food poisoning and other health problems.


Careful and necessary packaging to preserve foods flavor and freshness has a big difference from packaging designed for advertising. An aluminum can of tuna fish, does not benefit from a plastic wrapping surrounding it.

Quote:
By contrast, the environmentally sensitive New York Times has been growing. A year's worth of the newspaper now weighs 520 pounds and occupies more than 40 cubic feet in a landfill. This is equivalent in weight to 17,180 aluminum cans--nearly a century's worth of beer and soft drink consumption by one person. Clearly, people anxious to heal Mother Earth must forego the Times!


Paper is reground de-inked and repressed, into lower grade paper. This is not an issue. An paper is far easier to shred, then wood.

Quote:
Myth 5: We're Squandering Irreplaceable Resources

Fact: Thanks to numerous innovations, we now produce about twice as much output per unit of energy as we did 50 years ago, and five times as much as we did 200 years ago. Automobiles use only half as much metal as in 1970, and one optical fiber carries the same number of calls as 625 copper wires did 20 years ago. Bridges are built with less steel, because steel is stronger and engineering is improved. Automobile and truck engines consume less fuel per unit of work performed, and produce fewer emissions.


This is a dodge of the issue. The fact that processes have improved doesn't mean that you aren't squandering the easiest to use of the resources. If you have processed copper, it is far easier to melt that and reuse it, then it is to smelt ore. It is pointless to forego the easiest resources first, it is even worse to take those easily accessible resources, and spread them around making them hard if not impossible to recover.

Quote:
To address the issue of paper, the most-promoted form of recycling: The amount of new growth that occurs each year in forests is more than 20 times the number of trees consumed by the world each year for wood and paper. Where loss of forest land is taking place, as in tropical rain forests, it can be traced directly to a lack of private property rights. Governments have used forests, especially the valuable tropical ones, as an easy way to raise quick cash. Wherever private property rights to forests are well-defined and enforced, forests are either stable or growing. More recycling of paper or cardboard would not eliminate tropical forest losses.


This is not the issue and is another dodge. There is no advantage to burying the paper, regardless of the abundance of trees.

Quote:
Myth 6: Recycling Always Protects the Environment

Fact: Recycling is a manufacturing process, and therefore it too has environ-mental impact. The U.S. Office of Technology Assessment says that it is "not clear whether secondary manufacturing [i.e., recycling] produces less pollution per ton of material processed than primary manufacturing." Recycling merely changes the nature of pollution--sometimes decreasing it, and sometimes increasing it.


Recycling almost always removes the mining aspect of the equation. Requiring only sorting to be added into functions that would already be performed.


Quote:
This effect is particularly apparent in the case of curbside recycling, which is mandated or strongly encouraged by governments in many communities around the country. Curbside recycling requires that more trucks be used to collect the same amount of waste materials. Instead of one truck picking up 40 pounds of garbage, one will pick up four pounds of recyclables and a second will collect 36 pounds of rubbish.


I don't know where the hell the author lives, but in my state its that one truck will pick up 36 tons of garbage and 4 tons of recycling.
Quote:
Myth 7: Recycling Saves Resources

Fact: Using less of one resource usually means using more of another.


Recycling is not about using less of a resource, its about using the resource repeatedly.

Quote:
In the ordinary course of daily living, we already reuse most higher value items.


Ahh then perhaps the author could explain just what function a beer bottle serves me personally? I can readily explain the use of recycling, it gets cleaned and filled up with beer, or melted and reformed, and filled with beer. But an empty bottle serves me no purpose.

Quote:
the very things that consumers have already decided are too worthless or costly to deal with further.


Recycling targets the things, we have no uses for, but that other companies can.

Quote:
Daniel Benjamin is a professor at Clemson University and a senior associate at PERC, the Property and Environment Research Center.


My Opinion of that school just went from none, to pretty damn poor.


Btw, the most profitable part of the US military has always been the aircraft graveyard, because of their recycling programs... But I suppose we should just dig a trench and push the planes into them...


Last edited by Thematic-Device on Mon Jan 09, 2006 5:45 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 5:39 pm
 


Blue_Nose wrote:
That'd be great if recycling used waste energy, or green energy, or anything other than the same processes used in the initial manufacturing. But they are using the same processes, and it's more effort to collect and transport the recycling material and convert them to other useful substances than it is to just turf them.


Care to explain how mining and smelting ore is easier then seperating your trash?


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 6:59 pm
 


Blue_Nose wrote:
That'd be great if recycling used waste energy, or green energy, or anything other than the same processes used in the initial manufacturing. But they are using the same processes, and it's more effort to collect and transport the recycling material and convert them to other useful substances than it is to just turf them.

Ever seen a "full" landfill? It's usually a park, or a golf course.... very nice spot.

You still haven't convinced me that "degrading" the environment, in terms of entropy, has any real and significant effect on it. Should they start issuing "low entropy" warnings on the radio when it starts dipping?


Well, I'd like to see the math to back that up--this writer doesn't provide them. It could well be. I'm not all that familiar with recycling processes. But with respect to, say, aluminum, does it really cost more to recycle one (there are smelters in BC in Trail and Kitimat, I believe) than to mine the bauxite in the tropics, put it on a freighter to Vancouver harbour, send it by rail to Trail, smelt it, and then truck it to a manufacturer?

Yes landfills are sometimes used as parks (a particularly good use, since a park will ensure no future excavation that would disturb the underlying fill). But these have become parks through good management - -the grass doesn't just grow over them. Leachate issues, for example, normally continue long after the landfill is decommissioned.

The entropy/environment thing is a pet project of mine. (Incidentally, you got it backwards -- low entropy=high organization=good thing, so we'd be issung "high entropy" warnings!)

As for your "real an significant effect" -- it all depends on your definition of significant, I suppoe. A thermodynamic outcome of climate change may well be the extirpation or extinction of polar bears. Is that significant. I've enver seen one, so is it significant to me that there are no more polar bears. It may be significant to the bears!

The bottom line is: I'm not dismissing out of hand what the writer is saying. I am saying that (a) he doesn't back up his contentions with science, and (b) he seems to be advocating a free market policy position adn then selecting factoids to support his point of view.

Ooops goota go!


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 09, 2006 7:23 pm
 


So... I wonder which oil, mining, logging consortium paid for that blog?


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