America has achieved peak recycling

In 1996 New York Times columnist John Tierney wrote a highly controversial essay for the paper entitled Recycling is Garbage. In his essay, Tierney stated that the activity of recycling may make you feel good but recycling was, on the whole, a wasteful activity. Now some nineteen years later, Desert News published an article pointing out that recycling has reached its peak and maybe on its way out.

As the article points out, sixteen years after Tierney’s article the city of Woodbury, New Jersey made its recycling program mandatory and many other municipalities followed. However, in the past ten years the growth of recycling efforts has not grown by much at all.

In a 2012 report, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that for every 4.38 pounds of trash they produce, Americans recycle about 1.51 pounds. When broken down by types of material, the rate can drop even lower. The recycling rate for plastics is about 23 percent, despite the billion water bottles sold every year.

Essentially, Americans maybe experiencing what people in Great Britain have gone through known as green fatigue. In this instance there is a great enthusiasm among people for recycling and other conservation efforts only to later taper off due to no observable benefit to the environment yet people have to take the onerous task to clean and store their recyclables for pick up and undertake other tasks in order to go green.

The largest obstacle for municipalities that recycle isn’t the result of reduced participation but the costs:

Recycling costs cities and towns in dual collection and sorting. Sometimes there is a payoff in the sale of recyclables, but that small profit shrinks further as oil prices diminish. When oil prices are low, it’s cheaper to make new plastic than recycle, leading one New York recycler to complain to a reporter for Crain’s, “Prices for recycled plastic are so low now, it’s not worth stealing anymore.” New plastic now costs 67 cents per pound, compared to 72 percent for recycled, Crain’s Plastics News says.

However, instead of recycling and then reusing the materials from recycled products to make items to sell, municipalities are switching to an idea that was resented at one time: incineration. The Deseret News article points out that Palm Beach County, Florida elected to build an incinerator when voters rejected a larger landfill. Also, thanks to oil’s prices dropping, it is cheaper to make new plastic items rather than recycle them.

Ultimately, there is no reason (environmental, moral or otherwise) to recycle trash since resourceS are not scarce. But recycling programs are in place because of the perception that they are and something needs to be done out of an altruistic notion to sacrifice for future generations. If people want to worship Mother Earth that is up to them. However, environmentalists have made it a point to mandate their religious beliefs in the form of forcing people to practice separating their garbage and putting it in a certain recptical one or more times a week. This out of a demented notion that somehow people are the reason for polluting the planet and must make nature their highest value when it comes to collecting their trash. That includes the mandatory taxes and fees that you are forced to pay in order to subsidize it.

Below is a excerpt from Penn & Teller’s Bullshit episode on recycling. In it, a test is done on some California residents demonstrating how far people will go to preserve the planet despite the torture of additional recycling requirements.