Many years ago John Tierney, a muckraking journalist in the finest tradition, wrote an incredibly controversial article for the New York Times called: “Recycling Is Garbage.” His point was that many of the costs of recycling, including the energy consumed, often made recycling an economic and ecological loser. We all want a cleaner environment, and we know that at least half of our readers will shriek when they hear this: but in many cases, recycling doesn’t make much sense and it isn’t going to save the planet.
Now a quarter-century after Tierney wrote his sacrilegious piece on recycling along comes – are you ready for this? – Greenpeace, which agrees with the recycling skeptics. The group’s new report is headlined: “Plastic Recycling Is A Dead-End Street.”
The group offers a wealth of statistics and a succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.”
In New York City, for example, recycling a ton of plastic costs at least six times more than safely burying it in a landfill.
But don’t think Greenpeace has fully embraced common sense. Now the greens are calling for “phasing out single-use plastics” through taxes or a “Global Plastics Treaty.” But such bans don’t work. The one that many states have adopted on single-use plastic grocery bags has raised prices, forced the use of more energy-intensive paper bags and totes, and even led customers to steal handheld shopping baskets. And what are we supposed to replace plastics with? Glass bottles? Cardboard?