Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Recycling: Bad For The Environment?

Dean Esmay comments on how recycling can be "bad for the environment". (Link via INDC Journal)

The only problem I can see with his comments is that it's hard to judge what's "good" and "bad" for the environment when there are trade-offs to be made between different environmental concerns, under different conditions in each locale. For example, here in Logan, the recycling program's main aim (as far as I know) is to extend the life of the landfill. If I remember correctly, it turned out to be cheaper in the long run to operate the recycling program at a loss than it is to build a new landfill that much sooner. Except for inversion time in the winter, the extra pollution put into the air by recycling trucks is not a problem here, and the town is small enough that workers driving to sort recyclables don't pollute much either. But I can see how in some areas, where air pollution is super-bad already and people have to drive an hour and a half to work, that might not be as great a trade-off as it is here.

Same goes for reading the newspaper online. To read the paper online takes electricity, and electricity has to be generated by either (a) nuclear power which generates a small amount of very very toxic waste, (b) burning something which produces byproducts in the air, or (c) damming a river, putting up a wind turbine, or installing a solar panel that can affect wildlife. If you want to avoid the pollution that comes from the physical paper, you're going to have to choose your environmental poison. Reading the paper online only seems cleaner because you don't hold the waste in your own hand.