Sunday, November 16, 2008

A word about recycling and the Dave's Bag Contest

I've gotten quite a few emails lately about two specific pieces that I have up on the blog, the National Recycling Day that happened yesterday, and the Dave's Bag Contest.  So I thought Id take a moment and throw something up about them here rather than email back to everyone.

On the recycling front, I mentioned way early in the process that I am not pushing recycling as a solution, and in fact, find it to be somewhat of a crutch.  Now before everybody gets their knickers all in a bunch, give me a chance to explain.

I am pro recycling and I think recycling is a great thing.  Compared to throwing things "away" recycling is a far better way to go.  Having said that, there are two problems with recycling.  First and foremost is that most people don't do it.  From the numbers that I have seen, roughly 10% of everything that is recyclable is recycled.  That means that 90% of that stuff ends up in a landfill anyway, so buying recycleable stuff clearly does not make the difference it should and we as a society, need to step up to the plate a bit.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I think that a lot of people use recycling as a crutch, meaning that they feel that by buying something that they will recycle, they aren't putting any stress on the environment and are doing the right thing.  But they aren't.  They are still using resources, using energy, and may not even be recycling what they can in the long run.  Beyond that, many things, like plastic water bottles, aren't actually recycled but downcycled (water bottles get turned into park benches and the like) so new water bottles need new plastic.

Basically, recycling is better than throwing it "away" and never buying that packaging in the first place is better than recycling.  keep yourself out of the process to begin with and you've really achieved something.  Having said all of that, there are many who are not as far along in the process towards waste minimization as some of us, and for them, its important to let them know where they can recycle and what so that 10% becomes 100%, thus that post.

On the Dave's Bag front, a number of people have complained that this is consumption oriented which i not the message behind what I'm after.  While on a level that is correct, my hope is that whoever wins the bag(s) will use their contents, thereby limiting their waste, and thus, become ambassadors of waste minimization in their own communities.  So while the bags do speak to consumption, imho, they are the lesser of two evils, by a long shot.

Anyhoo, hope that answers some questions.  Off to feed the worms and perhaps sing to them off key



Anonymous said...

I TOTALLY agree with you on the recycling issue. Tree Hugger, in fact, went so far as to call recycling bullshit. While I wouldn't take it to that level, it does give people a false sense of doing the right thing and makes it easier for them to consume. So thanks for making this point.

Oh, speaking of recycling -- Brita's gonna do it. Starting in January! Check out Take Back The Filter http://www.takebackthefilter.org on Tuesday for details.

This recycling, I think, is somewhat different because people use Brita filters so they can drink from the tap instead of buying bottled water. Also, it's great because the company itself is taking responsibility for the filters instead of leaving it up to communities to figure out what to do with them.

Dave said...

Thanks Beth and congrats on the Brita campaign, way to make a difference. Any chance you can write up a short post about it and email it to me? I'd be happy to post it so people know what's going on.


Anonymous said...

I'll send you Brita's press release and also our reaction to it tomorrow.

It will be great to get the word out to people so they won't throw their filters away.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dave and Beth,

There is a lot of negativity associated with Zero Waste. I turn my back on this lack of vision and look towards a world where Zero Waste is on the rise.

Since recycling is imperfect, minimising plastic bottle waste will be a new priority. Glass alternatives, containers and refilling processes are ways to deal with the problem.

JenJen said...

A lot of the problem with recycling as it exists (or not) now is the municipalities. There are still a lot of areas that don't even offer curbside recycling, and even among those who do, the options are very limited.

I live in an area that's very Progressive in this area, but they still could be doing a lot more. They did expand their plastics just this past year, but I think they (and we) could be doing much better.

That said, I very much support Zero Waste, and my family and I work very, very, very hard to minimize what we consume.

Jen M.

Average Jane said...

Recycling is not good in any way for the environment. It's very toxic and NONE of it is done in this country. That means that our empty bottles are shipped to China, or at least trucked to Latin America before they return as re-usable material. You've been writing a lot lately about food miles, but what about recycling miles?

I understand people's intentions are very good when they recycle, but being given the choice between dump and recycling is a little like being asked whether you would rather have arsenic or strychnine for dinner. One hungers for a door number three....

One great read of many on this subject is "Cradle to Cradle" by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.