Thursday, May 04, 2006


I stayed home from work today which disrupted my routine a bit. I forgot to take my garbage out. But it got me thinking about garbage and about recycling (which I only do in a very limited way).

We live in a wasteful time. But generally, I have to admit that I do not worry too much about garbage. It gets picked up from my house once a week and goes to a landfill somewhere. At least I hope it goes to a landfill rather than an incinerator because I think that landfills are probably more environmentally friendly than incinerators. I used to say that I would never want to live near a land fill but then I realized that I already do live sort of near one. (There is that big one where all the Toronto trash goes) and I work near one that Ann Arbor used to use. Landfills, believe it or not, are not dangerous. I don’t think that we are running out of landfill space but even if we were, I know that in flat places like where I live, we could make mountains out of our trash if we wanted to. And ok, we already have built “Mount Trashmore” someplace Downriver.

So what of this “green” mantra we hear of all the time: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? Here are my thoughts on that.

Reduce: I think it is probably a good thing for all of us to reduce our consumption. I have been certainly trying to reduce mine. But this isnt because I am worried about garbage or landfill space. It is because I think it takes a lot of resources to make things in the first place. I also am learning on a personal level that over consuming makes one a wage slave. The more I can simplify my life, the less I have to work. And frankly, my own labor is a resource I care very much about conserving. I have a long way to go certainly but theoretically, the more I reduce my consumption, the more money I can save and the earlier I can retire. Also, the less I consume, the less resources I use in the first place. That includes everything from raw materials to labor. I firmly believe that humans are efficient enough that most people can probably get by working about half as much as we already do. I also believe that the reason we don’t work less is mostly because we have been brainwashed into believing that we need more stuff.

Reuse: I try to reuse things as much as possible. I stopped buying glasses a while ago and now when I break a glass, I usually replace it with a jar. I have found that jars are generally more sturdy than the kind of drinking glasses a person buys at the store. I kind of like their shape too. It might not be the height of drinking ware fashion but it works for me. I reuse plastic bags. Sometimes I wash out those sturdy ziploc ones. I reuse the grocery store plastic bags when I go dog walking. Generally though, my reuse of items is motivated more by the fact that it means I have to buy less than by a concern about those items ending up in a landfill.

Recycle: I don’t recycle anything other than bottles and cans and then only because of Michigan’s bottle deposit law. I generally think the bottle deposit law is a good idea but not because it forces people to recycle. I think it is a good idea because it keeps people from littering and when they do litter, it provides other people with an incentive to pick up the litter. Judging from the trash that regularly gets thrown into my front yard, I wish there were some way to have a deposit on fast food containers but that is neither here nor there. There are two main reasons why I don’t recycle. They are:

1. I think it is a waste of my labor. (Which if you wish, can be interpreted as laziness)
2. I think that for most items, recycling does more harm than good. Sure it saves space in landfills but at what cost? Curbside recycling eats up a lot of fuel since often it is a second truck that picks up the recyclables. It takes a lot of energy to process the recyclables. Some things like paper recycling have a process that is less environmentally friendly than farming trees and making paper from pulp. Generally there are two things that probably make sense to recycle. They are aluminum cans and glass. Most of the aluminum cans and glass that I use get recycled when I return those items to the store to get my deposit back. I don’t feel that the benefit of recycling what is left is greater than the cost of having the recycling truck come to my house to pick those things up.

What is funny though is that my sister seems to really want to recycle but there isnt any curbside recycling where she lives so I have offered to let her come use my bin and I even offered to throw that one wine bottle a week I am likely to consume into it. Our plan is that I’ll leave it out on my front porch and she’ll come on Wednesdays and put her stuff in it and carry it down to the curb for me. Mostly I figure that recycling will make her feel good and letting her use my bin makes me feel good which is more of a benefit to me than the knowledge that letting her do it kind of supports the very wasteful curbside recycling program that I think does more harm than good.

1 comment:

E-Speed said...

My friend is a recycling guru. She knows more about it than anyone I know. She actually told me recycling glass uses more energy than it does to just throw away.

Interesting stuff.

We could do like Germany and some other European countries where they reuse bottles and that would actually be more environmentally friendly.

We don't have the bottle deposit here in Ohio but I try to recycle our plastic and aluminum anyways. Although it means hauling it to the recycle place myself.