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Why Greenies Want to Kill Recycling

At my house, we enforce mandatory recycling.

Every bit of recyclable plastic, glass, newspaper, or cardboard is categorized, sanitized, and properly placed in the correct bin for collection. My wife is the chief enforcer of this policy, and the smallest detail (the little plastic pull tabs that seal half-gallon milk cartons, for example) is not overlooked. This is what it takes to run a successful recycling program.

Now, the political greenies want to remind us how recycling has failed, But they’re doing it in a very disingenuous way, using the New York Times as the mouthpiece of an obscure radical social engineering group. They want an all-powerful nanny state to do what families should be doing, so they’re urging governments to throw out the best way to deal with plastic and paper waste.

As a family, we are Christian conservatives, politically-speaking. But we have both driven Subarus for years, and we deeply care about the environment, which we consider to be the duty of Christians as stewards of the earth. But you’d probably not be surprised to learn that most who identify as “environmentalists” are not so committed to such stewardship.

In fact, there is no shortage of high profile priests and priestesses of climate change who themselves live lives as sultans and potentates, jetting around the world in private aircraft from one elite conclave to another. True environmentalism is not a left-right issue, but political and economic central planning solutions are at the heart of most leftist tears over plastic shopping bags and straws.

The left is replete with hypocrites, and nobody is shocked. Now, knowing how little regular people are willing to do to make recycling programs (which do work when done properly) effective, they’ve moved on to kill the idea and get to their next objective (I’ll get to that in a bit).

A 2016 Pew study noted that just 20 percent of people who say they’re concerned with helping the environment consistently live according to their beliefs. And though about double the number of those who do live consistently, also care a great deal about climate issues, the conjoining of those causes ends there.

Beyond this difference, however, there is no relationship between effortful attention to helping the environment and beliefs about climate change. Opinion among more environmentally conscious Americans closely matches that among the public as whole. And environmentally conscious Americans are both Republican (41%) and Democratic (53%) in close proportion to that found in the population as a whole.

The Pew Research Center, October 4, 2016

A Saturday feature in the March 16 New York Times offered the clickbait headline “As Costs Skyrocket, More U.S. Cities Stop Recycling.” Its second paragraph makes the incendiary claim that many cities simply lie to residents about what happens to the stuff in their recycle bins.

Philadelphia is now burning about half of its 1.5 million residents’ recycling material in an incinerator that converts waste to energy. In Memphis, the international airport still has recycling bins around the terminals, but every collected can, bottle and newspaper is sent to a landfill. And last month, officials in the central Florida city of Deltona faced the reality that, despite their best efforts to recycle, their curbside program was not working and suspended it.

It is infuriating to learn that your town is simply burying your carefully sorted and cleaned recyclables, but the article hides its real point. The reason cities have a hard problem with effective recycling is because residents do a poor job sorting and decontaminating recyclables. When cities implement draconian measures, as Seattle does, people rebel.

The key is really education and private innovation. But instead, America has largely outsourced its recycling to China, Thailand and India. These countries are now restricting what they’ll take because Americans are terrible at proper recycling. It’s a cultural thing for us.

Buried deep, deep within the NYT piece is the real lede and the point of the entire article.

This month, a lobbying group for Connecticut municipalities, citing the chaos in local recycling programs, urged the governor to focus on restricting plastic bags, straws and packaging.

“The sooner we accept the economic impracticality of recycling, the sooner we can make serious progress on addressing the plastic pollution problem,” said Jan Dell, an engineer who leads Last Beach Cleanup. It’s an advocacy group that works with investors and nonprofits to reduce plastic pollution.

Who is Last Beach Cleanup? Their website says the “Quest” is “[collaborating] with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), socially responsible investors (SRIs), and individuals in leading catalytic initiatives to move from awareness on plastic pollution to wide-scale action and achievement.”

This means banning plastic bags and straws, foam cups, plastic bottles, lids, wrappers and other items that are generally highly recyclable. But Jan Dell doesn’t claim that recycling doesn’t work. The claim is that it’s economically impractical.

But if it’s economically impractical that Americans won’t take the extra time to reduce contamination of recyclable items, or even to bother sorting recyclable items into bins to reduce costs, then what makes them think it’s more economically practical to ban those items completely?

The answer is very clear: it’s easier for a centralized government to force companies to stop making stuff than it is to force people to stop using it. Think Prohibition. We know how well that worked.

How about the New York Times spend its barrels of ink educating people on how to better recycle and to increase the number of people who genuinely care and act on environmental stewardship from two in ten to a higher number? In this case, we actually can have our cake and eat it, but the leftists care more about us having neither because it’s about economic power, not saving the earth.

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