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