You may be shocked to know that a committed environmental advocate has a problem with recycling, but unfortunately, it is true. But before I am forced to turn in my “eco warrior” membership card, let me explain why recycling can actually be detrimental to big picture progress on ecological action.
Why recycling isn’t always a good thing.
A Muskoka chair made of recycled materials.
Glen Hodgson photo
The first issue rests in the fact that products that are tossed into the blue box are not just recycled, but are in fact usually down cycled. Down cycling is the term that is used to explain that there are only a limited number of uses for most of the things that we recycle and they are rarely even remotely connected to the original use of the packaging. This includes almost everything plastic that we can recycle.
While the number of things that are being made from recycled materials in increasing, it is still very limited. I would challenge anyone reading this column to find a product in their home that is made from a large portion of recycled materials. You can get really nice Muskoka chairs, tables and some clothing items but you usually end up paying a premium for your environmental choice. How this makes sense escapes me but this is a topic that I have already mentioned in past columns.
Another issue is the amount of energy it takes to recycle. By the time an item is collected, returned to a sorting plant, cleaned and processed into new material, there can be a tremendous amount of energy and resources expended that can often far outweigh the energy saved by recycling.
Now, let me be clear, I am not suggesting that we should toss everything in a landfill. However, what I am suggesting is that products should be made with less packaging to begin with. We should reuse more of the things that we purchase and we should avoid making unwanted acquisitions. Items should be made to last, not made to be disposable.
Once an item is created, it should have the capacity to be re-used rather than recycled.
You say it can’t be done? Well, you are wrong since it already is happening. Our beer store reuses almost all of the bottles that leave the facility and cases and bottle caps are recycled into similar products.
Also remember that it wasn’t that long ago that pop and juice bottles were the same and, if you go back far enough, even milk bottles and other such items were returned and reused with much less impact on the environment.
You would probably be surprised to know that the main industry that lobbied and pushed for a vibrant recycling program in our province and country was the beverage industry.
By shifting the cost and responsibility for the waste that these massive companies produced onto citizens, the beverage conglomurants were able to realize even greater profits and make bigger bottles to sell even more of their product.
Ironic isn’t it.
The biggest problem is that most people who recycle truly do it for the right reason and want to help their planet. Diverting this waste stream from the landfill is definitely a good thing.
The issue is that recycled is not enough and a full blue box may make us feel better, but it isn’t a long-term solution.
The challenge is not to stop sticking your blue box out on the curb.
Rather, the challenge is to try and keep it empty.