Rethink Recycling

Lets pause for a moment and notice how pervasive the marketing campaigns are for us to change our behavior about where we put our trash. The campaigns are in our kids schools, sitcoms, and the labels on the bins at every residence and office. That marketing presents recycling as the number 1 cure for solving large scale environmental problems. In most cases the marketing focuses on influencing our behavior, not telling the whole story of what happens next.

Photo by mali maeder on

In some cities recycling isn’t just another bin that’s provided for you. It’s a mandatory practice. When we were living in Germany it was mandatory.

I don’t mind things that are mandatory.

I do mind things that are mandatory by force.

If something is a good idea, then I don’t believe that force (or the threat of force) should be an influence in the decision making. Avoiding certain substances isn’t something I choose to do because there is a law. It’s something I choose to do because it makes sense to me. Similarly, choosing to do something is better done when compelled not by fear, but by anything other than fear.

Returning to the marketing campaign on recycle. It’s pervasive and persuasive, but does recycling even make sense?

great information, but only part of the story

In the sense of reusing and re-purposing what you have to give it the longest life possible, yes. Recycling makes sense. You’re not going to get an argument from me against being frugal and using what you have.

Just because recycling in general makes sense doesn’t mean our recycling programs make sense.

Let me explain. Boise is big on being a town that tries to take care of the environment, but as I understand it their recycling program is far from it. Items put in the recycling bin have to be sorted. From there some of the trash is sent to the landfill. Some of it is sent to Salt Lake City to be turned into Diesel fuel, and some of it is sent to the west coast and shipped thousands of miles across the Pacific Ocean.

When KTVB did a story on recycling in 2018 it wasn’t about does this program make environmental/economic sense. It focused on if people knew where to put the trash. That’s a pretty big miss on a good question in my book, but it’s totally understandable about how that happens. Because the marketing is so pervasive we take for granted that recycling is doing something good.

Here’s a good question to look at, if the goal is to go green then why does going green involve significantly increasing carbon output?

In my home I reuse what I can, and I also chose to put as much as I can in the trash. The town doesn’t yet have the infrastructure to properly reuse the materials and the way it processes them can be seen as actively damaging the environment.

I also believe that maybe it’s time to clean up the way we talk about recycling. Update the marketing and tell us where things are really going so we can make an informed decision about not which bin or bag to put our stuff in, but whether or not it makes economic/environmental sense to put it anywhere else but a modern landfill.