Has the Recycling Experiment Failed?

Has the Recycling Experiment Failed?

Despite ample evidence to the contrary, environmentalists are certain the planet is on its death bed sweating out its final breathe while humans turn up the thermometer. Although their estimation for exactly how much longer we have seems to change every time we reach their previous projection unscathed, the certainty grows. Decades of blatant misrepresentations of data should arouse anyone’s suspicion regarding the shrill of environmentalist propaganda, but lies are best served with a short-term memory and this time your imminent demise is really coming. In fact, according to controversial US freshman lawmaker Alexandria Occasio-Cortez, “the world is gonna [sic] end in 12 years.” In typical neoliberal “clown nose on, clown nose off” fashion she later professed that anybody who actually believed what she said had the intelligence of a “sea-sponge,” but one look at her Green New Deal speaks volumes about who should avoid being critical about the noble sea-sponge.


Regardless, the doomsday goalposts have been moved 12 years down the playing field, giving environmentalists sufficient wiggle room to deny and redact all their past instances of irresponsible fearmongering specific to this decade. Without a doubt those goalposts will be moved again and again until the Yellowstone supervolcano blows and the environmentalists can say they were right all along, but until then it is time to take a serious look at one of their few supposed “victories” of the last five decades, recycling.


Recycling is propositioned to consumers as a simple way to help preserve the planet. The pervasiveness of the word can be traced back to the environmental movement of the 60’s and 70’s, specifically the first official “Earth Day” in 1970. Using Google’s Ngram feature which tracks the use of words in literature we can see that “recycling” was seldom used prior to the 60’s. The word steadily increased in popularity until the late 90’s, at which point the past 30 years of ubiquity had done its job and ingratiated itself on our consciences.


We have been conditioned to believe it is an easy, inexpensive and effective measure in preserving the environment and thus people have been dutifully separating their waste for decades. Who could justify not recycling given the benefits and consequences associated? The problem with most things that seem too good to be true is that usually they are.


Since 1992 China and Hong Kong have almost single handedly made recycling seem like the perfect solution to the growing amount of plastic waste produced by the world. For the 26 years preceding 2018 China and Hong Kong offered an “out of sight, out of mind” answer by importing 72% of the world’s polymer junk. Unfortunately, China is at the top of the list of 192 coastal countries when it comes to offshore pollution of plastics and is home to six of the top 20 most polluted rivers in the world, including three of the top five. Importing plastic just to dump them into the nearest waterway doesn’t keep things out of sight or out of mind for long, and as the Pacific “garbage patches” grow, environmentalists estimate there will be more trash then fish in the sea by 2050.


The world aimed the bulk of its ire at China for predictions like the one above, oftentimes not realizing the extent to which China was becoming the world’s dumping ground. China responded in 2017 by announcing the National Sword Policy which banned the import of all plastic waste that wasn’t 99.5% pure. The impact was felt immediately. From Oregon to Ireland and everywhere in between inventories swelled and overflowed at waste management facilities. The band-aid solution was to start shipping the waste elsewhere, particularly other countries in Southeast Asia. In places like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia the plastic waste imports doubled in the first half of 2018 following China’s new legislation. These countries quickly began to follow China’s lead and by June both Malaysia and Vietnam had issued similar bans on waste imports.


The countries who haven’t instituted all out bans on imports are routinely beginning to send shipping containers back to their countries of origin. Earlier this year 69 containers of waste were shipped back to Canada from Cambodia after the contents were found to be rotten and unusable. For environmentalists who love to harangue about the greenhouse gases emitted by commercial airlines, there has been a resounding lack of discussion regarding the impact that shipping recyclable waste across the world and sometimes back again may have on the environment.


Rather than accept that recycling has become a bane to the cause of planet preservation, the surge of Green parties across the world’s political stage indicates that the environmentalists are willing to double down on failed rhetoric of the past. Hardly a surprise given that decade after decade they still can’t decide if paper or plastic bags are more detestable.


The solution to the recycling epidemic is as simple as going back to what we were doing before this propaganda was shoved down our throats. Throw your garbage in the garbage.


Landfill is a dirty word and as with most leftist agendas we can partially thank Hollywood for the images it conjures in the average person’s mind. Festering mountains of trash in all sorts and sizes emitting toxic green gas while rats scurry about is a much more accurate way to describe the current state of recycled waste importing facilities in Southeast Asia then it is to describe a modern landfill.


The landfills of the 21st century are impressive displays of what recycling should be. Methane, a greenhouse gas and byproduct of biodegradation can be harnessed by modern landfills and turned into clean energy, mitigating the need to mine and burn of fossil fuels in areas where such a landfill is present. Had the resources spent convincing people to meticulously separate their trash into blue bins instead been used to upgrade old landfills, homes completely powered by clean energy would be more common than not.


Moreover, the idea of mountains of trash covering vast distances as far as the eye can see is one of the more silly depictions of landfills that add to the negative stigma surrounding them. On average, trash compactors can compress 1,300 pounds of trash into a single cubic yard, and according to a Mises Institute study, holding all of America’s garbage for the next 100 years would only require one landfill 255 feet deep and 10 miles on a side. If that mental image is concerning, you may find it relaxing to go birdwatch while you kayak through what was formerly the largest landfill in the United States as it is well underway to becoming a public park.


A study from 2013 entitled “Recycling remains a rarity in Eastern Europe” that may have once been the source of grievance for the environmentally conscious here in Bulgaria should instead be a source of pride. Recycling may be a “nice idea” in theory but has been proven over and over to be an abject failure in its application. Whether it’s the Philippines threatening to declare war on Canada over exported recyclable waste, the necessity of 2,000 foot nets deployed in the ocean to drag trash back to shore, the rise of “recycling kingpins” or other such displays of corruption, the experiment has failed and it’s time to reconsider.


Instead of being held accountable to make safer goods, producers pass off the burden of recycling to the taxpayer. Similarly, instead of being held accountable for disposing of their own waste, developed nations pass off their garbage to developing nations and wipe their hands of the problem before pointing their finger back at the developing nations for polluting the ocean. Thus, the facade of virtue that environmentalists have attached to recycling is laughably inaccurate.


If it’s the environment you really care about, landfills are the most realistic available options. They are not without their problems, almost nothing is, but had all the time and money spent on perpetuating the fairy tale of recycling in the last 40 years instead been spent on innovation and subsequent renovation of landfills, they would be close.


By Eric Alexiev

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