October 4, 2015

RECYCLING IS STILL GARBAGE: I was curious to see the reaction to my piece in today’s New York Times on the follies of recycling. It’s a sequel to a 1996 article that set a record for hate mail at the New York Times Magazine, and I wondered if green-minded readers would be any more receptive this time. A few of the commenters have offered counter-arguments and raised other issues, like the supposed blight of plastic garbage in our oceans — a myth that was masterfully debunked in Katherine Mangu-Ward’s recent article, “Plastic Bags Are Good For You.” But the typical reaction is nicely summarized by Carl V. Phillips, who posted a reflection on his fellow commenters:

It is quite remarkable how at least 80% of the comments so far consist of someone saying, in effect, “but I just know it is right” (without responding to Tierney’s cogent analysis), picking fights with straw man points, or pontificating about grand ideas that do not change the simple economics of the real world. I have not seen any substantive bit of analysis that finds fault with Tierney’s core points, and yet there are numerous conclusions that he is wrong. I would guess that that recycling enthusiasts fancy themselves to be more open-minded and scientifically literate than average. Apparently such “open mindedness” is reserved for criticisms of other special interests, and they dig in their heals when it is their own rites that are being questioned.

I realize that true believers don’t need rational reasons for their religion, but it would be nice to see a little soul-searching in regard to some stats in the article: To offset the greenhouse impact of one passenger’s round-trip flight between New York and London, you’d have to recycle roughly 40,000 plastic bottles, assuming you fly coach. If you sit in the front of the plane, it’s more like 100,000 bottles — and you have to make sure not to rinse any of them with hot water, because that little extra energy could more than cancel out any greenhouse benefit of your labors.

I presume Al Gore and his fellow preachers are too busy to deal with all those bottles, so will they stay home? Or at least start flying coach?

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