Wednesday, March 04, 2009

To recycle or not to recycle?

Recycling has been a hot issue in Dubai for the last year or so. I've listened to more talk shows about reusing plastic shopping bags (or replacing them with brown paper bags) than I care to remember. To be honest with you? I didn't go with the flow from the beginning. I am not sure why. It could probably be because I am irrehabitably lazy. Or because I am wary of all over-hyped media campaigns. Or because the whole thing sounded like pseudo-science to me. But the 'experts' kept talking and opining about the perils of using plastic bags that I've become unwittingly guilty every time I went shopping. A sick feeling of irresponsibility and negligence crept up my spine every time I saw a guy (you know those environmentally-conscious type) sorting his trash through the to-be-recycled garbage bins. But I've never recycled, probably never will. My philosophy has always been this: if it's too dangerous for mother earth, then let'em ban it altogether. I was relieved, though, to read recently that I wasn't totally off the mark with my prediction, here's why:

5 Ways People Are Trying to Save the World (That Don't Work)

#3. Recycling

Why People Do It:

We've all been raised to believe that unless we all recycle, our forests will soon be barren and we'll be living among mountains of our own filth, Wall-E style. Recycling is also supposed to use fewer resources and create less pollution. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Why They Shouldn't:

The image of the paper industry hacking down every tree until we were all gasping for lack of oxygen was always ridiculous; we've increased the number of trees over the last 50 years as logging companies plant more to ensure future supply.
Equally silly were the warnings most of us got hammered with growing up, about tales of overflowing landfills, full of trash that takes housands of years to biodegrade. At least in America, we were never in danger of walking through streets of garbage. Some expert at Gonzaga University, with a lot of time on his hands, calculated that at current rates all the garbage in the US over the next 1,000 years would fill up a 35 square mile landfill 100 yards deep.
This sounds like one of those "Holy shit!" scary figures until you consider this is about one tenth of one percent of the land currently used for grazing in the US. Also, this would be the accumulation over 1,000 years by which time we should have bigger things to worry about, like overthrowing our robotic overlords.

As for saving resources by recycling, this is where it gets tricky. Partly this is because whether or not recycling saves resources depends on whether you consider human labor to be a resource (that is, the effort to pick up, sort and transfer the items to be recycled). Recycling requires more trucks, more crews and more people to oversee the entire process. In Los Angeles alone there are twice as many garbage trucks than there would have been without the recycling program. Just like those douchebags who drive to the gym to run on a treadmill but still hop in the car to go the one block to the corner store to pick up their pork rinds and soda, it's not clear just how much benefit there is at the end of the day.
Also, re-using something is not always better than just tossing it away. A chemist at the University of Victoria calculated that you would need to use a ceramic mug 1,000 times before you would see benefits over using disposable polystyrene cups for those 1,000 cups of coffee. This is because it takes far more energy to make that mug and takes energy and water to wash it after each use.
Now obviously you can't take that to the extreme and go to a lifestyle of all-disposable dishes and clothes, and where every ink pen is sold in box made up of three pounds of cardboard and plastic. But the problem was never as bad as they kept telling us.


Allie said...

Great post, and I totally agree. The only time I ever recycled was when I lived in Austin (where they charge a ton for your garbage bill but you can recycle all you want for free). I only reuse the things I'm too cheap to buy more of (I'm embarrassed to post that list, because it's extensive since I take frugal to a ridiculous level).

I'm so tired of the fear mongering. It's refreshing to see something that contradicts it, and is accurate.

the real nick said...

I am afraid that this 'cracked' article is pretty much complete rubbish itself, and ignorant one at that.

DJ, the reason we all should recycle /sort garbage, is to manage landfill. This is important for the new generation of anaerobic digestors / metabolising plants to work better to extract the calorific value - methane gas which is being extracted and sold to power stations to generate electricity. They only work, or work better, with organic waste and are a great source of free energy whilst reducing landfill.

Not every country on Earth has, like the US, huge areas of wasteland available which can easily be used for landfill sites. Let me guess: 'cracked' is a US site?
Landfill is a huge problem in almost every European country, and it takes normal landfill site forty years to generate methane gas that can be extracted- somthing anaerobic, or bio-digestors, can achieve in the space of two weeks.
This si why we need to recycle: to sort rubbish to enable energy extraction, and reduce requirements for huge landfill sites.

Recycling is age old and alive in developing countries, before it even started in Europe in the Eighties. You know the poor sods cycling around Dubai scavenging paper and cans and bottles, which they sell on? Same happens in countries llike India where recycling, or scavenging - waste management if you like - is actually a profession. I guess that this is similar in Syria.

I suggest you read up on waste management and the anaerobic bio digestors etc. before making a fool of yourself.

AL Gore is wrong, and 'cracked' is wrong too. The truth is somewhere in the middle.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

That’s great, Nick. I will read about waste management (like I didn’t really read about it yet), perhaps you can help? Perhaps you can point to me one single study that proves the feasibility of re-cycling: i.e. (time wasted on sorting waste + extra labor for sorting waste + carbon footprint for more garbage trucks making the same trips on the same routes more frequently+ time spent to convince the dreamy fuckwits their recycling isn’t saving the planet) < (saving of landfill area + energy gas produced from organic waste)?

Like Egypt and India, we do have many scavengers in Syria. But you’re missing the point aren’t you? These people are driven by the economical need to pick up the useful/recyclable/reusable waste, not by their concern for the landfill or the environment. It’s feasible for them, and this is why they do it, period. And by the way great deal of scavenging takes place within landfills AFTER the garbage has been disposed of and dumped there, and not before.

I don’t mind if re-cycling makes you feel good. I am very happy for you. I just get sick of every pretentious ‘expert’ on the radio thinking they’re doing humanity real good by promoting things that are flashy and fashionable on the surface, but not really that beneficial in essence.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Allie, you’re a good girl. :-) I will only recycle if it becomes compulsory or expensive not to. By the virtue of being a bachelor and living alone, I have no option but to use disposable stuff. But other than that, I think I am very good at ‘reusing’ in the larger scheme of things; my wardrobe life expectancy is very high. I have a 6 years old T shirt. And only last year I had to get rid of sneakers because they got worn out pretty bad after 7 years and thousands of KM of jogging….

KJ said...

I think your trash says lots about you, so keep your trash clean and organized :P

the real nick said...

And where is the study that proves how many more trips the separate rubbish collection generate? There wouldn't be any because this argument just sounds good but really is silly.
Think about it: the amount of rubbish is X. If you separate it, the total sum of all parts is still X. You therefore either need the same number of trucks to do fewer trips, or a lesser number of different trucks to collect less often (which, incidentally is what happened in Europe. Less waste, lesser collection dates)
Do you know where landfill sites are located? Usually Far away from cities(except in Manila, which seems to be one huge garbage dump itself). Do you know where recycling industries are? Not so far away, for example Union Paper mills in Al Quoz.

The amount of rubbish doesn't grow > the carbon footprint in deposing of it doesn't grow.
Face it: Recycling is a good thing, whether it is financially motivated or not. That's not the point either, is it? You are lazy and irresponsible and are trying to find a nice "contrarian" excuse for it.

And regarding your last point: Yes, certain environ-Mentalists are unsavioury company, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.

DUBAI JAZZ said...

Yes there is a paper mill in Al Qouz and they do recycle paper. But have you asked yourself how they do it and what they do it with? As far as I know, they have a network of people who collect cardboard boxes for them from supermarkets, malls and warehouses…etc.. and btw, industrial and commercial recycling is good. Because, by the virtue of it being an industrial process, where you know upfront what waste you’re going to end up with, it’s easier to sort waste and then recycle it. It’s totally different case with domestic waste.

lol @ you calling me lazy and irresponsible. Yes man, I told you I am lazy, but so is 90 % of humanity. But irresponsible I am not. I’d recycle my waste when it becomes mandatory. After all, isn’t that the definition of responsibility?

And btw, let me ask you a question: do you know where the waste from the recycling bins in Spinneys eventually go? a wild wild guess? ;)

DUBAI JAZZ said...

And btw, I'd much rather we spend money on biodegradable plastic research than spend it on sorting and recycling garbage.

kaya said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kaya said...

I could go on an on about this. I try to do my two cents worth, but in my friends circle alone, I have a friend who is obsessive about cleaning. And the gallons of bleach/detergent that she pours down her drains would kill a whale. Whereas, OK fine thats not recycling. But since we are on the environment subject. What pisses me off is all these huge supermarkets prepared to screw you for a baggie, all in the name of calling themselves GREEN.
Thats all hogwash. Seen the cars their Top Honchos drive. What? Its only the baggies that are the culprit?
I think not.

moryarti said...

Agree with Kaya as well ..

Allie said...


I'm with you on that. I still have articles of clothing I got in excess of a decade ago. I just really can't stand the idea of buying something that I already have, so I keep things until they literally fall apart.

Though in honesty, my exercise clothes would probably have to be replaced every now and again if I actually took the time to exercise. :)