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Should tomorrow be zero-waste?
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From Treehugger, here’s an interesting call against recycling. In part:

Lets call recycling what it is- a fraud, a sham, a scam perpetrated by big business on the citizens and municipalities of America. Look who sponsors the National Recycling Coalition: behind America Recycles Day: Coca-Cola, Pepsico, Anheuser-Busch, Coors, Owens-Illinois, International Bottled Water Association, the same people who brought you that other fraud, Keep America Beautiful.
Recycling is simply the transfer of producer responsibility for what they produce to the taxpayer who has to pick it up and take it away.

So let’s remove recycling from the three R’s; it doesn’t belong there, use “repair” instead. Let’s demand returnable bottles and deposits on everything and let’s celebrate Zero Waste Day on November 15 with a returnable bottle of beer.

Seems like a relatively-plausible conspiracy theory, and a confrontational way to frame the issue. But, I’d hate to see anybody delay working on a green-tech project while they wait for more sustainable product packaging… what do you think?

20 thoughts on “Should tomorrow be zero-waste?

  1. This is truth. Car makers did much the same thing with roads. Citizens pay taxes to keep roads intact and car makers pay nothing so their vehicles can use those roads. They don’t even have to take the vehicle back when you’re done with it. It’s up to the consumer to dispose of their vehicle.

    In Europe, if you buy electronics, you can take it back to the manufacturer when it’s reached the end of its lifespan. The manufacturer has to take it for free.

  2. Recycling sounds like a great idea, but ultimately ends up being “downcycling” as the materials that are recycled usually end up in a landfill eventually. Recycling can extend the time it takes for this to happen, but it still happens. If this is a topic anyone is interested in, I recommend reading “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart. That book is where I got the term “downcycling”.

  3. The conspiracy that is.

    Why wouldn’t major manufacturers of aluminum packaging encourage recycling? Al is one of the few materials that requires less energy and money to recycle than to produce from raw materials (bauxite IIRC).

    Also, recycling can and does work well when done right. Most of your car or bike (unless it’s carbon fiber) is recycled material. Steel has and probably always will be the most recycled material on earth, has been for a long long time. Go to any mfg that makes steel or iron products from base material, i.e. a foundry or mill, and you’ll see that they feed the furnaces with every bit of scrap iron they can get.

  4. The conspiracy that is.

    Why wouldn’t major manufacturers of aluminum packaging encourage recycling? Al is one of the few materials that requires less energy and money to recycle than to produce from raw materials (bauxite IIRC).

    Also, recycling can and does work well when done right. Most of your car or bike (unless it’s carbon fiber) is recycled material. Steel has and probably always will be the most recycled material on earth, has been for a long long time. Go to any mfg that makes steel or iron products from base material, i.e. a foundry or mill, and you’ll see that they feed the furnaces with every bit of scrap iron they can get.

  5. The conspiracy that is.

    Why wouldn’t major manufacturers of aluminum packaging encourage recycling? Al is one of the few materials that requires less energy and money to recycle than to produce from raw materials (bauxite IIRC).

    Also, recycling can and does work well when done right. Most of your car or bike (unless it’s carbon fiber) is recycled material. Steel has and probably always will be the most recycled material on earth, has been for a long long time. Go to any mfg that makes steel or iron products from base material, i.e. a foundry or mill, and you’ll see that they feed the furnaces with every bit of scrap iron they can get.

  6. here in Michigan there is a 10cent deposit on all bottled products.

    the good: 1. incentive to recycle

    the bad:
    A. grocery stores and distributors are forced to take your returnables. if they sell them they have to take them back. this increases cost for a store without guarantee that the person will spend the money there.
    2. i’m not sure if there is a way to find out if the distributor or manufacturer actually recycles all those returned cans and bottles anyways.
    C. friends, families, roommates, brothers, and sisters get very emotional about who gets the deposit money.

    a little note for people elsewhere in the country, in Michigan it is not unusual to return 200 to 300 dollars in returnables after a summer camping at the camp or cottage. that’s about $1500 or 2500 cans of beer or coke.

  7. I agree that in practice recycling isn’t the wonderful thing we were taught it was when we were younger. I don’t know about actual conspiracy theories though — why attribute to malice, what can be explained with ignorance.

    Recycling just encourages a consumerist lifestyle and is like a pat on the back we can give ourselves. “It’s OK, I recycle all those 1/2 liter plastic water bottles.” I can drive a range rover or suv, because I recycle a trivial amount of material.

    get off my lawn, kids!

  8. Ahh, Corporate America side steps responsibility/financial consequences once again. This should be a reminder that to know the full story, one must trace the $.

    What if companies were responsible for the full cycle of their products? Think of how product design would change. The point being made above is that corporate change will require consumer pressure. So, you are the catalyst for zero waste. I prefer Cradle to Cradle. It’s positive and doesn’t create neurosis.

  9. Yes, Josh, money speaks. The thing is, you’re paying for your can or bottle and the drink company is not. They shift all charges to you. Every bottle or can you consume is you telling Coca-Cola that they are doing just fine and can keep doing what they are doing. Switching to Pepsi or even Coors won’t change anything. The recycling fee also changes nothing; you’re still paying the drink company for their packaging. The only way to shift the blame directly onto the drink company is to force them to take their packaging back and not do it through a middle-man.

  10. The final answer is neither simple nor unilateral. Forcing every manufacturer of every item to take it all back at the end of its service life, whether it’s a water bottle or a 747 would only add to the initial expense (borne by the taxpayer) of the item.

    German/EEU “Green Dot” legislation is a good example of this; you either collect all your own waste or pay into a government system that does it for you (a gross oversimplification, but close enough). Either way, you pay. Some recycling (aluminum, PET, steel, newsprint) works because there’s a market that will buy it provided transportations costs aren’t prohibitive. Some recycling (HP printer cartridges) works because there’s a company committed to it. Some recycling (computer recyclers in China) works because they have no respect for human life or health and it’s cheap. Some recycling just doesn’t make economic sense ever, and is unsustainable.

    Simply demanding that the government (the same people who brought you the efficiencies of the TSA and the SEC) handle it is naive and would result in a huge taxpayer burden just for the staffing. Demanding that all companies take everything back is expensive and would be essentially unenforceable without the aforementioned burdensome government infrastructure. Depending on universal altruism has a low probability of success as does the use of polemics about human overconsumptioin, so what you’re left with is recycling of materials where markets exist and landfilling or generating power with them where there are none.

    Humans are intrinsically not zero-waste organisms, and neither are their societies…our best bet is to find ways to reuse the basic materials and energy.

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Luke Iseman

Luke Iseman makes stuff, some of which works. He invites you to drive a bike for a living (dirtnailpedicab.com), stop killing your garden (growerbot.com), and live in an off-grid shipping container (boxouse.com).

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