EDITORIAL Recycling: More Questions Than Answers

Rossland Telegraph
By Rossland Telegraph
December 10th, 2008

As Rossland ponders the future of its recycling program, it’s worth giving some thought to the options under consideration and to the nature of recycling itself. According to the Telegraph’s poll this week, Rosslanders appear united on one thing: they want to keep curbside collection. Eighty two percent of respondents want curbside pickup, either with or without an accompanying depot. Only ten percent want depot-only service (the other eight percent have placed their faith in goats).

What is the best option? Well, given that the goal of recycling is to have a net-positive effect on the environment, the would seem to be obvious: curbside pickup only. This option involves one vehicle making one trip around town per week. The curb-and-depot option involves that same truck plus a few hundred car-and-SUV trips a week. Footprint-wise, it’s hard to make a case for a supposedly eco-friendly activity that involves so much driving! Or maybe we’re wrong. Who knows.

Of course the counter argument could be made that without a depot, many or most Rosslanders won’t bother to put their stuff out each week (in rain, in snow, in ice storms) and the amount of material being recycled will decline. Are there any statistics on this? But would the increased participation in the program that comes with a depot offset the increased auto emissions? Any stats on this? Who knows.

And what about recycling itself? Exactly how good is it for the environment once all the costs of pickup and processing are factored in? Who knows.

We need to ask ourselves some hard questions about recycling. Is recycling, the way we do it now, a truly useful thing or is it just a feel-good waste of time and money that salves the consciences of greedy liberals but actually harms the environment? Who knows.

As it stands right now, we do know one thing. The glass we ‘recycle’ in Rossland each week is crushed and dumped into the Trail landfill right alongside our other junk (there’s no market for it). So why do we even bother putting it in blue bins? Apparently there’s not much of a market for used plastic either, and some scientists claim that there’s less negative environmental impact to creating NEW plastic than to reusing OLD plastic. Rumours also abound that much of our recycling ends up in Chinese landfills, having been shuffled out of our sight. Is this true? Who knows.

Is all the effort we put into our recycling programs objectively worth it? Who knows.

We DON’T know and that fact should concern us all. It’s like bio-fuels—a bandwagon everybody jumped on for about six months until it was revealed that they were more harmful than conventional gasoline. Or wind power: there are now rumblings that production and maintenance costs of wind farms might outweigh their benefits. What if it turns out that community recycling programs do no measurable good? If that is the case, then it should be time for us all to think up new, more effective ways of dealing with our waste. Like buying less and reusing more (the ugly step-sisters in the ‘reduce-reuse-recycle’ trinity). What if those are far more effective methods than garbage-in-a-blue-box? They’re harder things to do. Will we support them? Or does it all boil down to the feel-good thing? Who knows.

No answers here, we’re afraid—just a feeling that there are a lot of questions that need to be asked–and answered with hard facts. Once we get our Christmas gluttony over with, the Telegraph will be investigating this issue in depth.

The environment is a serious issue and demands a serious response from communities. Why, for example, isn’t there an easily-available scientifically-verified list of eco-friendly practices for people to use, ranked in order of impact? Perhaps it’s time to start thinking seriously about ALL the options out there and putting our money behind the best ones.

Maybe recycling would turn out to be near the top of such a list and maybe it wouldn’t. Who knows. For all we know, the eight percent of Rosslanders who voted in our poll for feeding our tin cans to the goats will turn out to be right!

But who knows?

To get the ball rolling on this issue, please check out our new Telegraph Forum, now located on the grey bar beneath the Telegraph logo: Is a community recycling program the best way for us to use our resources to help the environment?

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