Saturday, May 2, 2009

Why Recycle?

By Jennifer Arbuckle, Written for

It is true that recycling can be costly, time consuming, and not as easy as throwing all your trash into one container. Literally, the behavioral meanings and implications of recycling fit rather poorly into standard economic theory. The American consumer found in the text books wants only to acquire the most stuff with the least effort, and would not comprehend that there is such a thing as “obviously enough:” five times the present standard of living would be better than four times but not as good as eight times as much. Recycling, unless adopted as an idiosyncratic hobby, would seem to be undertaken only in response to the kinds of economic incentives seen during World War Two. Fortunately, there is evidence that the world is not populated solely by such slothful gluttons.

The growing acceptance and expansion toward supporting recycling cannot be understood in terms of economic incentives alone. First we must understand that basic values and positions on public policy are not externalities waiting to be monetized. And second, while recycling is not always profitable in the short term, it is nonetheless a valid response to long-term environmental problems, which cannot be reduced to narrowly economic terms. Obviously, human needs would have to include much more than material sufficiency to obtain fulfillment; surely the good life includes the development of far more glorious capabilities than merely having lots of “stuff.” Should our goals not include an awareness and connection to our social and environmental context? The urge to recycle may be viewed as evidence of this broader connection, seen as a statement of responsiveness and responsibility toward one’s surroundings. In fact, recycling is one the most accessible, tangible symbols of such an awareness.

Recycling on its own is, actually, the minimum effort an individual can do to reduce their impact. The four R’s (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and buy Recycle) are not in an undefined order, there is a purpose. Reducing the amount of waste you have is far more beneficial than having the same amount of waste and then reusing and recycling it. Reusing old clothes for rags or old milk cartons/ toilet paper rolls for art projects etc. is better than just recycling them because they serve another use, someone might learn something in the process, and in the end they’re recycled. There you have it, fun and education all in one, what’s better than that? Buying recycled products is part of “closing the loop,” which means buying recycling content products, using them and finally, recycling them back “into the loop” whenever possible.

Wait there’s more! There is a fifth R out there that provides the ironical cherry on top of the individual’s plight to reach sustainable living: Rot (i.e. composting). Rotting your kitchen scraps and yard waste is an easy diversion process that adds the side benefit of providing the best soil nature can provide. Put the myth of a stinking mound of ‘crap’ out of your uneducated mind and embrace the fact that this natural process smells merely of dirt! All you need is greens, browns, air, water, worms and boom: You’re a full fledged, aware, participant in the environment. Be happy, jump up and give a little “hip yip;” you’re on your way to being part of the solution not the problem.

Final facts: If it is a typical day in America; 368 million people will each throw away 4.4 pounds of trash, totaling 1,619,200,000 lbs of trash per day and 592,112,000,000 lbs per year; Making America the #1 trash producing county in the world at over 1,609 pounds per person per year. This means that Americans whom constitute only 5% of the world’s population generate 40% of the world’s trash.

Each day, 115 square miles of rainforests are destroyed, totaling 27 million acres per year. About 38.9% of the U.S. waste stream is paper. American’s throw away 44 million newspapers everyday. To produce each week’s Sunday newspapers, 500,000 trees must be cut down. If every American recycled just one-tenth of their newspapers, we would save about 25,000,000 trees a year. If every household reused a paper grocery bag for one shopping trip, about 60,000 trees would be saved. Until next issue of Community Seeds Eco Magazine (see it at, live well.