The Trash Recycling Myth Finally Goes Bust


For several decades, now, Americans have been told that they are “saving the earth” by recycling garbage. But that myth is finally going bust.

About a decade ago, many communities began emulating Europe and writing laws forcing Americans to recycle and these days the idea has become such an engrained part of life that everyone does it “just because” that is what we do.

But despite the left’s victory in forcing Americans to fall into the habit of recycling, the fact is, recycling is a sham and always has been. Worse, it isn’t just a meaningless effort to actually separate trash in our homes, in many communities actual recycling is no longer even being done even though citizens THINK it is being done.

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The ruse of recycling is finally being busted by no less than The Atlantic.

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In a recent article, the lefty magazine noted that recycling is on the downturn despite that most everyday Americans think it is commonplace for our garbage to be taken care of in the name of environmentalism.

Despite all of us separating our garbage before we set it out at the curb the magazine notes, “much of that carefully sorted recycling is ending up in the trash.”

For decades, we were sending the bulk of our recycling to China—tons and tons of it, sent over on ships to be made into goods like shoes and bags and new plastic products. But last year, the country restricted imports of certain recyclables, including mixed paper—magazines, office paper, junk mail—and most plastics. Waste-management companies across the country are telling towns, cities, and counties that there is no longer a market for their recycling. These municipalities have two choices: pay much higher rates to get rid of recycling, or throw it all away.

Because of the high cost, most are now just trashing the recycled materials.

The magazine talked to one city official:

“We are doing our best to be environmentally responsible, but we can’t afford it,” said Judie Milner, the city manager of Franklin, New Hampshire. Since 2010, Franklin has offered curbside recycling and encouraged residents to put paper, metal, and plastics in their green bins. When the program launched, Franklin could break even on recycling by selling for $6 a ton. Now, Milner told me, the transfer station is charging the town $125 a ton to recycle, or $68 per ton to incinerate. One-fifth of Franklin’s residents live below the poverty line, and the city government didn’t want to ask them to pay more to recycle, so all those carefully sorted bottles and cans are being burned. Milner hates knowing that Franklin is releasing toxins into the environment, but there’s not much she can do. “Plastic is just not one of the things we have a market for,” she said.

But the same thing is occurring in every community all across the country.

So, what does all this mean? It means we are wasting our time by bothering to separate our trash in the first place. And our waste pick-up companies are wasting their resources to have duplicate services to deal with regular trash and recyclables.

It also means that claims that were we were “saving” anything was always a sham because the cost of recycling was always artificially low. We never were getting the benefit out of recycling we thought we were getting.

Recycling is a chimera. It always has been. It has always ben just a feels good thing. A way for environmentalists to claim they are “doing something” even though they aren’t and a way for some people to make a lot of money by forcing cities to pass laws requiring recycling.

It has always been a sham. It’s time we stopped doing it.

Follow Warner Todd Huston on Twitter @warnerthuston.

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