The Sacrament of Recycling

 

Office Christmas parties have few redeeming qualities. I maintain that the world would be a better place if the practice were done away with completely. I do, however, have a rule about never turning down free food. While standing amongst co-workers this past Christmas, plotting how I could subtly steal the entire tray of cannolis, some of our colleagues from Britain inquired as to where the recycling was.

One co-worker pointed to the holiest of holies, while beaming with unjustifiable pride. Mildly surprised to find that we Yankees observed the same religious rites, our British colleagues began inquiring as to the depth of our devotion. Anyone can recycle bottles, cans and stacks of printer paper, but did we recycle cardboard? The American congregation was unsure.

Bemused, but only there for the food, I endeavored to stay out of the conversation. I remembered Clark Wiseman’s calculations showing that if the United States were to continue generating garbage at current rates for 1,000 years, and put it all into a single landfill 100 yards deep, it would occupy a space of 30 miles on each side. This hardly seems a great imposition for a nation of 3.8 million square miles.

I bit my tongue as the self-flagellation of my co-workers continued. We learned that the British are far from perfect in their devoutness, and recycle only a fraction of their waste when compared to the Scandinavian countries. And yet the guilt of my co-workers would not be easily assuaged. The United States needed to take recycling more seriously, they all agreed. After all, we’re running out of space.

I laughed audibly, drawing the skeptical gazes of the faithful. I looked up from my plate, which was at this stage suffering from a distinct lack of cannolis, and decided it was best to elaborate.

“Have any of you ever driven laterally across Kansas?” I asked. Several smiles appeared in the room, identifying my fellow recycling heathens. “We’re clearly not running out of space.” The point was granted by all in the room, and the subject quickly changed. An awkward tension hung in the air for several minutes as some tried to continue small talk.

If this were truly a disagreement about efficiency or resource management, there would be no need for hurt feelings in response to a dissenting opinion. My crime was far more sinister. I questioned the instrument of their redemption and the source of their smug moral superiority.

coexist_recycle

Like most religions, the Green movement attempts to define codes of right behavior. It contains an original sin: Existing. The battle against entropy requires the consumption of resources and the production of waste. These actions wrack the environmentally conscious with tremendous guilt, which can only be assuaged with an act of contrition.

The ritual is simple enough, though lacking the entertainment value of firewalking. Sort your waste into separate bins, rinse the recyclable items clean, and put a can down at the curb weekly. Now that you have “made a difference” you can go about your day knowing that you are better than most people. After all, think of all of the trees you’ve saved. One doesn’t need to guess at the number, as it can be readily determined.

It is commonly believed that increased wastepaper recycling will save trees, and presumably result in a larger growing stock of forests in the long run. The adjustments that can be expected to occur in forest management cast serious doubt on this conclusion. About one-third of the pulpwood for paper comes from residues of other wood products, the production of which will be negligibly affected by recycling. The remainder mostly consists of pulpwood trees, largely plantation-grown softwoods planted in orderly rows and mechanically harvested as a 20-year rotation crop. Their small size—indicated by a fiber yield of less than 200 pounds per tree—contributes to the immense numbers of trees cited by recycling advocates as being “saved” from the woodsman’s axe. The notion that stately old trees are used for paper production is erroneous; their value as lumber or plywood far exceeds their pulpwood value. Increased recycling will result in the conversion to agricultural uses of some plantation forest lands in the same way that a reduction in the demand for bread will reduce wheatlands, the possible result being a net reduction in the nation’s forest inventory.

None. You saved no trees.

Recycling is not inherently foolish. Many companies profitably recycled things like paper before governments began mandating the activity. And there are certainly environments (like a spacecraft) where the benefits of recycling vastly outweigh the costs. But what should be a cost-benefit analysis performed by individuals in a market place has become an article of faith enforced with social norms,rather than reason and evidence.

This has become a bit of a running gag when I’m at friend’s houses. I ask where the trash is so that I can throw away the can of soda I am holding, only to have my friend look down with disapproval, raise one figure into the air, and, with a pained expression on their face say, “Actually, we recycle.” Their concern for my soul is written clearly across their faces. Will this be the moment where I accept the redemptive powers of recycling into my heart?

“That’s neat.” I say while throwing the can in the trash. “Now let me tell you about Scientology.”

I’m a big hit at parties.

 

There are 67 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Frank Soto: “That’s neat.” I say while throwing the can in the trash. “Now let me tell you about Scientology.”

    Love it.

    • #1
    • February 13, 2015, at 1:58 PM PDT
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  2. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member

    All this recycling mania rather calls to mind yet another of Mao’s disastrous blunders, the Great Leap Forward as it was known.

    Desperate to industrialize Mao ordered hundreds of thousands of backyard furnaces built across the land in hopes of massively increasing China’s steel production. Countless pots, pans and any other metal artifacts that weren’t nailed down ended up being recycled in order to meet the impossible quotas demanded of the mad Chairman. Of course steel produced in such primitive conditions was almost completely useless yet the effort continued unabated for years.

    Backyard_furnace4

    • #2
    • February 13, 2015, at 2:01 PM PDT
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  3. Roberto, Crusty Old Timer Member

    pc-1959-001

    我们同矿石一起炼成钢 – We and ore together make steel!

    …and now…

    recycle_do_your_part_t_shirts_and_gifts_posters-ra77905649998450e9c7b650699a3609f_w2j_8byvr_324

    Hmm… I think their old propaganda posters were of a bit higher quality.

    • #3
    • February 13, 2015, at 2:11 PM PDT
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  4. Vance Richards Member

    At work, every desk has two small garbage cans, one for regular garbage and a blue one for recycling. On the nights that I end up working late I get to see our cleaning crew in action. After exchanging Hola’s with the cleaning lady I watch her dump the contents of both cans into one garbage bag. Oh well, at least the folks that go home at a normal hour can feel as though they fulfilled their sacrament.

    • #4
    • February 13, 2015, at 2:12 PM PDT
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  5. Western Chauvinist Member

    I assume you’ve seen Penn and Teller on Recycling is [expletive deleted]?

    This [expletive deleted] heresy even infects my church lady friends. I tell them, “As long as you recycle your metals, you can receive absolution for the other stuff.”

    What I don’t understand is, as our green-conscious packaging has been minimized, it’s also become impenetrable. What’s that about?

    If the zombie apocalypse happens tomorrow and I don’t have a sharp implement handy, I’m going to starve from being unable to open the bags of life-saving potato chips I’ve been hoarding. We’ll all be found dead, just our skeletons, with teeth gnawing on the corners of unopened Lays bags.

    • #5
    • February 13, 2015, at 2:25 PM PDT
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  6. JoelB Member

    I’m told just rinse out the containers and put them in the bin. Well, some foods require a lot more than that. Some take serious detergent and scrubbing. I wonder how much gas and hot water balance the loss of the container with a simple toss into the can. Oh and by the way, you can’t recycle pizza boxes, because they contain oils and food particles. Motor oil containers should not be recycled, but isn’t plastic made from petroleum? Is it better to clean out a paint brush or just throw it away? So many questions to ponder.

    • #6
    • February 13, 2015, at 2:34 PM PDT
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  7. Midget Faded Rattlesnake Contributor

    Western Chauvinist:What I don’t understand is, as our green-conscious packaging has been minimized, it’s also become impenetrable. What’s that about?

    It not only has to be Green but Safe, and to be fair, the safety trend came first. Products remain safer when you can’t get at them, though that doesn’t factor in the injuries you risk by trying to get to the product in the first place.

    They’ve even started packaging seedless cucumbers in a sort of hardened, shrink-wrapped condom to… keep you safe from the cucumber? Keep the cucumber safe from you? I hope the latter, since I’d rather not contemplate what kind of damage people expect from a seedless cucumber.

    As Dave Barry put it,

    Years ago — ask your grandparents — aspirin was sold in bottles that had removable caps. That system was changed when consumer-safety authorities discovered that certain consumers were taking advantage of this loophole by opening up the bottles and — it only takes a few “bad apples” to spoil things for everybody — ingesting aspirin tablets.

    So now aspirin bottles behave very much like stinging insects in nature movies, defending themselves against consumer access via a multilevel security system:

    There is a plastic wrapper to keep you from getting at the cap.

    The cap, which is patented by the Rubik’s Cube company, cannot be removed unless you line an invisible arrow up with an invisible dot while rotating the cap counterclockwise and simultaneously pushing down and pulling up.

    In the unlikely event that you get the cap off, the top of the bottle is blocked by a taut piece of extremely feisty foil made from the same impenetrable material used to protect the space shuttle during atmospheric re-entry.

    Underneath the foil is a virtually unremovable wad of cotton the size of a small sheep.

    As a final precaution, there is no actual aspirin underneath the cotton. There is only a piece of paper listing dangerous side effects, underneath which is …

    … a second piece of paper warning you that the first piece of paper could give you a paper cut.

    With aspirin leading the way, more and more products are coming out in fiercely protective packaging designed to prevent consumers from consuming them. My Italian Seasoning container featured a foil seal and a fiendish plastic thing that I could not remove with my bare hands — which meant, of course, that I had to use my teeth. These days you have to open almost every consumer item by gnawing on the packaging. Many consumers are also getting good results by stabbing their products with knives. I would estimate that 58 percent of all serious household accidents result from consumers assaulting packaging designed to improve consumer safety.

    • #7
    • February 13, 2015, at 2:54 PM PDT
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  8. Palaeologus Inactive

    Recycling cans is the worst. Hey, here’s a garbage bag full of 1-2 week-old saliva rimmed cylinders!

    Wanna fish around in it?

    • #8
    • February 13, 2015, at 3:35 PM PDT
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  9. Hammer, The Member

    Frank, this is the best Ricochet post I’ve read in a long time. I mean, a long time. I think it should get promoted to the member feed.

    • #9
    • February 13, 2015, at 3:36 PM PDT
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  10. Palaeologus Inactive

    Western Chauvinist:What I don’t understand is, as our green-conscious packaging has been minimized, it’s also become impenetrable. What’s that about?

    *Batteries not included

    **Spring-loaded shears recommended to remove doll from package

    • #10
    • February 13, 2015, at 3:42 PM PDT
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  11. Southern Pessimist Member

    “That’s neat.” I say while throwing the can in the trash. “Now let me tell you about Scientology.”

    I love this post. You are clearly a realist if not a pessimist. One of my best friends is a trial lawyer ( although I am a physician, I live a life filled with diversity). He went bankrupt a few years ago by putting his entire life savings into building a commercial green building. Gavin Newsome was at the grand opening and everyone praised my friend for his commitment to the planet but the banks took over his life 18 months later. At dinner one night he made the sort of statement that you describe and I said that from what I had read the only material that makes economic or ecologic sense is recyling aluminum. He was more than incredulous but that is why he is bankrupt and I am not.

    • #11
    • February 13, 2015, at 3:51 PM PDT
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  12. TJSnapp, Multi Pass holder Member

    Walk in the light of Mother Gaea my son and you shall be saved.

    • #12
    • February 13, 2015, at 3:56 PM PDT
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  13. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    I’ve actually started recycling, but for two very irreligious reasons: greed and slavery.

    • Greed. I get charged for the recycling can whether I use it or not. If I dump half my trash in that thing I can reduce the size of my real can and save some coin.
    • Slavery. I don’t rinse or sort a thing. That’s why I have children. They are learning the very valuable lesson that a significant percentage of life is putting up with other people’s waste, whether material or immaterial. They get no pay for this other than my approving smile and a life lesson I hope they carry on to the next generation.
    • #13
    • February 13, 2015, at 4:07 PM PDT
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  14. SkipSul Moderator

    We started recycling at work for 2 reasons:

    1. It costs us nothing to do so, we even got a discount from our garbage hauler.

    2. It keeps the more vociferous employees happy. They would visibly wince at our weekly cardboard waste and would not believe me when I told them that recycling cardboard costs more energy than making it new.

    So we do it. It’s stupid, but it’s no cost to me.

    • #14
    • February 13, 2015, at 4:14 PM PDT
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  15. Hammer, The Member

    Western Chauvinist:I assume you’ve seen Penn and Teller on Recycling is [expletive deleted]?

    This [expletive deleted] heresy even infects my church lady friends. I tell them, “As long as you recycle your metals, you can receive absolution for the other stuff.”

    What I don’t understand is, as our green-conscious packaging has been minimized, it’s also become impenetrable. What’s that about?

    If the zombie apocalypse happens tomorrow and I don’t have a sharp implement handy, I’m going to starve from being unable to open the bags of life-saving potato chips I’ve been hoarding. We’ll all be found dead, just our skeletons, with teeth gnawing on the corners of unopened Lays bags.

    that video was quite funny. Some of what penn does is kind of [expletive], but in this case (and actually many other cases), I agree.

    • #15
    • February 13, 2015, at 4:15 PM PDT
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  16. 1967mustangman Inactive

    The paper picture is even better than that. Here in Oregon we have giant poplar farms that grow a tree to harvest in less than 12 years. There is a farm in Eastern Oregon over 18,000 acres large and is home to over 5 million trees. It is quite a cool little micro-ecosystem they have created for themselves over there. Most of the green circles in this photo are trees (and it covers only a tiny little bit of Oregon).

    Poplar

    I will not though that recycling can make actaul financial sense as it is much more energy efficient to recycle paper then to make new paper.

    • #16
    • February 13, 2015, at 4:45 PM PDT
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  17. Dave of Barsham Member

    When I moved to Seattle we had some friends over and I got “the look” when they asked where the recycle bin was. They took their aluminum cans home with them. I can remember thinking, “what the *&%$ did I get myself into moving up here?” It became one of those things I gave into eventually just to save my wife the awkwardness around her co-workers who we spent a lot of time around. I’ve got no problem with recycling, we should be good stewards, but having someone demand I do it like it’s some moral issue makes me want to go to parties at their houses just so I can un-separate their garbage when they’re not looking.

    • #17
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:12 PM PDT
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  18. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    We live in the Seattle area, where they take recycling to new heights (or depths). In Seattle, it is ILLEGAL to throw away “compostable” food scraps, and the garbage collectors are allowed to open your garbage and look to see if you are throwing away anything that must be composted. If they decide that you have, they fine you. Want to know why we don’t live in Seattle?

    • #18
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:15 PM PDT
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  19. Arahant Member

    Cans and many types of bottles in Michigan have a $0.10 deposit. No way am I losing a dime.

    • #19
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:17 PM PDT
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  20. 1967mustangman Inactive

    So this must be why Seattle can’t dig a tunnel. They are too busy snooping in your garbage.

    • #20
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:30 PM PDT
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  21. SkipSul Moderator

    Arahant:Cans and many types of bottles in Michigan have a $0.10 deposit. No way am I losing a dime.

    My grandparents in Toledo would collect all bottles and cans, then drive over the border and get the deposits. You guys are suckers.

    • #21
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:46 PM PDT
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  22. Yeah...ok. Inactive

    I tell the same story over and over – never throw it out.

    • #22
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:50 PM PDT
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  23. Ed G. Member

    Arahant:Cans and many types of bottles in Michigan have a $0.10 deposit. No way am I losing a dime.

    That deposit contributed greatly to and end of summer staff party when I worked at summer camp up there. Sometimes to my smoking habit too. Trade offs.

    • #23
    • February 13, 2015, at 5:58 PM PDT
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  24. Limestone Cowboy Member

    Wow.. a lot of heat on this topic. If I may differ gently…

    I do recycle for a number of reasons, none of which are about personal virtue or saving the earth. My reason is primarily to avoid squandering valuuable materials.

    1. Under many circumstances recycling makes sense, especially for steel and aluminum. Even more so for copper.
    2. Useful products do emerge: newspaper to kitty-litter, or to home insulation. My last home was insulated with recycled newsprint; my cats use recycled newsprint letter pellets.
    3. For the most part there does not need to be much additional effort. In my community we’re fortunate to have single-stream recycling… one bin for glass, paper, metals and (some) plastics. Anything else in the regular trash. Generally our recycable bin is at least twice as large by weight as our regualr trash bin.
    4. I think that the method of collection is very important in estimating the utility of recycling. Our single stream collection seems to be fairly efficient.
    5. I lived for several years in Norway, which was very astute in its collection method. Most supermarkets and every Statoil gas station had recycling bins for ferrous metals, clear glass, colored glass, paper, plastics and cloth.Since practically everybody drives to supermarkets and gas stations, there was little additional effort to recycle useful material, and (I assume) a significant reduction in effort and energy required to collect those materials.
    6. I assume that automated sorting methods will become ever more sophisticated.

    Like previous commenters I object to mandated recycling with onerous sorting requirements. But, where the value of recovered material justifies the collection cost and the sorting requirment is modest I’m happy to participate.

    • #24
    • February 13, 2015, at 6:06 PM PDT
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  25. Hammer, The Member

    Limestone Cowboy:Wow.. a lot of heat on this topic. If I may differ gently…

    I do recycle for a number of reasons, none of which are about personal virtue or saving the earth. My reason is primarily to avoid squandering valuuable materials.

    1. Under many circumstances recycling makes sense, especially for steel and aluminum. Even more so for copper.
    2. Useful products do emerge: newspaper to kitty-litter, or to home insulation. My last home was insulated with recycled newsprint.
    3. Third, for the most part there’s little additional effort. In my community we’re fortunate to have single-stream recycling… one bin for glass, paper, metals and (some) plastics. Anything else in the regular trash. Generally our recycable bin is at least twice as large by weight as our regualr trash bin.
    4. I think that the method of collection is very important in estimating the utility of recycling. Our single stream collection seems to be fairly efficient.
    5. I lived for several years in Norway, which was very astute in their collection method. Most supermarkets and every Statoil gas station had recycling bins for ferrous metals, clear glass, colored glass, paper, plastics and cloth.Since practically everybody drives to supermarkets and gas stations, there was little additional effort to recycle useful material, and (I assume) a significant reduction in effort and energy required to collect those materials.
    6. I assume that automated sorting methods will become ever more sophisticated.

    Like previosu commenters I object to manadated recycling with onerous sorting requirement. But, where the value of recovered material justifies the collection cost I’m happy to participate.

    As someone already posted, it’s worth a watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rExEVZlQia4

    • #25
    • February 13, 2015, at 6:10 PM PDT
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  26. Palaeologus Inactive

    skipsul:

    Arahant:Cans and many types of bottles in Michigan have a $0.10 deposit. No way am I losing a dime.

    My grandparents in Toledo would collect all bottles and cans, then drive over the border and get the deposits. You guys are suckers.

    Now, now, we aren’t exactly suckers.

    We’re screwed. That’s a bit different.

    Happy Valentines Day, Ricochet!

    • #26
    • February 13, 2015, at 7:06 PM PDT
    • Like
  27. Done Contributor
    Done Post author

    Limestone Cowboy:Wow.. a lot of heat on this topic. If I may differ gently…

    I do recycle for a number of reasons, none of which are about personal virtue or saving the earth. My reason is primarily to avoid squandering valuuable materials.

    1. Under many circumstances recycling makes sense, especially for steel and aluminum. Even more so for copper.
    2. Useful products do emerge: newspaper to kitty-litter, or to home insulation. My last home was insulated with recycled newsprint; my cats use recycled newsprint letter pellets.
    3. For the most part there does not need to be much additional effort. In my community we’re fortunate to have single-stream recycling… one bin for glass, paper, metals and (some) plastics. Anything else in the regular trash. Generally our recycable bin is at least twice as large by weight as our regualr trash bin.
    4. I think that the method of collection is very important in estimating the utility of recycling. Our single stream collection seems to be fairly efficient.
    5. I lived for several years in Norway, which was very astute in its collection method. Most supermarkets and every Statoil gas station had recycling bins for ferrous metals, clear glass, colored glass, paper, plastics and cloth.Since practically everybody drives to supermarkets and gas stations, there was little additional effort to recycle useful material, and (I assume) a significant reduction in effort and energy required to collect those materials.
    6. I assume that automated sorting methods will become ever more sophisticated.

    Like previous commenters I object to mandated recycling with onerous sorting requirements. But, where the value of recovered material justifies the collection cost and the sorting requirement is modest I’m happy to participate.

    There are a great many parts to this, but to the extend that recycling is useful, it will be done voluntarily. A good 40% of what you are putting into recycling bins ends up in landfills anyway. So observations like “My recycling is twice the size of my trash” are hugely misleading.

    • #27
    • February 13, 2015, at 7:47 PM PDT
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  28. Done Contributor
    Done Post author

    skipsul:It’s stupid, but it’s no cost to me.

    Like FM radio.

    • #28
    • February 13, 2015, at 7:52 PM PDT
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  29. Done Contributor
    Done Post author

    Arahant:Cans and many types of bottles in Michigan have a $0.10 deposit. No way am I losing a dime.

    Gas is $2.00 a gallon. How far is the turn in and how’s your car’s gas mileage?

    • #29
    • February 13, 2015, at 7:53 PM PDT
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  30. Arahant Member

    Frank Soto:

    Arahant:Cans and many types of bottles in Michigan have a $0.10 deposit. No way am I losing a dime.

    Gas is $2.00 a gallon. How far is the turn in and how’s your car’s gas mileage?

    Well, first, we seldom actually drink sodas or the things that come in such bottles or cans, and secondly, the deposit centers are at all grocery stores, so you bring them in, the machine gives a receipt, and you get it off your grocery bill. It’s definitely an easy system.Since we’re going to the market anyway, no big deal. I will admit though, that since we do it so little, when we do have a can or bottle to take in, my wife will often forget it for a few weeks before remembering.

    That said, I doubt that it does much, other than getting trash pickers interested in ensuring roadsides are cleaner.

    • #30
    • February 13, 2015, at 8:05 PM PDT
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