We are going to stop recycling

By: Richard & Kristen Furleigh

More accurately, we are going to stop recycling to save the environment!

In Reno, it’s a well-known secret that Waste Management doesn’t always process our recycling properly. It gets mixed in with regular garbage, not collected/sorted improperly, etc… Recent information by Dr. Thomas Kinnaman, an environmental economist at Bucknell University, studying recycling, natural resources, and improved incineration processes, has confirmed what Kristen already had been talking about, but I was stubbornly hoping was wrong. Recycling can be worse for the environment than simply throwing it away to be buried in a landfill. Now, this is not all-inclusive, and there are some items that are still worth it: metals like tin and aluminum and, in some parts of the country, paper products, and cardboard. The problem comes down to the fact that there are precious few US-based recycling centers for other items like plastic, glass, and styrofoam. 

Plastic, interestingly enough, is one of the worst offenders to having a negative net impact when you try to recycle since you have to include the overall energy required to recycle it, that is if what you put in the recycle bin even gets past sorting. You have to get a vehicle to pick it up, transport it to a processing facility, sort it, transport it again to a port, have it shipped overseas, have it trucked to a facility there, and then finally recycled. As hard as it may be to come to terms with this fact until programs get better here in the States, you’re actually putting significantly more CO2 into the air by trying to do the “right thing.” Interestingly, the giant plastic island in the ocean isn’t because of cruise ships, dock workers, or people in San Francisco tossing their empties into the ocean, but because if a shipment of plastic to China was too dirty they just dumped the whole thing in the ocean.

Shifting gears some, in an interview that included Dr. Kinnaman, he admitted in the last seconds of the interview that even though all of his data suggests the negatives of recycling plastics outweigh the positives, he still does it because it just “feels wrong.” Kristen was immediately taken aback “How can he possibly do that? You’re an economics professor whose own data shows that it damages the environment more to recycle but you can’t bring yourself to do it simply because it doesn’t feel good?!” She then made one of her best points “How can he try to convince us to [throw away our recycling] when he can’t even bring himself to do so? Not only that, this is the last thing he says, rather than doing the better thing we might as well just say screw it and keep recycling anyway. There’s nothing to take away from that, just keep doing the same thing.”

So, what are we, the Penguins, doing already and what are we going to change? Well, no more plastic recycling, as much as it will pain me to put it in the trash instead. While we’ve already been recycling our beverage cans, I can try to do a little better with metal food containers by giving them a little rinse and make sure that they’re cleaner when I do put them in the bin. I’ll also try to continue to cut down on single-use items by carrying a metal straw and fork in my backpack as well as trying to remember our RTIC cups for drinks on the go. Even beyond that, we can try to buy metal single-use beverages as opposed to a plastic one. Buy fewer individually wrapped/packaged items. Currently, we don’t use single tea bags at home but brew bulk loose leaf. We have a decent habit of using the same shopping bags, some of which we have had for years and keep them in our cars, and we do a pretty good job of buying second-hand, used items when we can. We could remember to do more of that when considering future purchases and all around just simply purchasing fewer things. By being more intentional when making purchases we can ensure they will be used for years to come. What recommendations can you send our way for things you are already doing or changes you may make with this new information?

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