John Tierney Says "I Told You So"

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Back in 1996, John Tierney wrote a provocative essay in the New York Times: titled "Recycling Is Garbage". That heresy drew a lot of criticism.

Tierney now notes a grudging admission at City Journal: On Second Thought, Just Throw Plastic Away. A stance now supported by the last folks you would expect:

Even Greenpeace has finally acknowledged the truth: recycling plastic makes no sense.

This has been obvious for decades to anyone who crunched the numbers, but the fantasy of recycling plastic proved irresistible to generations of environmentalists and politicians. They preached it to children, mandated it for adults, and bludgeoned municipalities and virtue-signaling corporations into wasting vast sums—probably hundreds of billions of dollars worldwide—on an enterprise that has been harmful to the environment as well as to humanity.

Now Greenpeace has seen the light, or at least a glimmer of rationality. The group has issued a report accompanied by a press release headlined, “Plastic Recycling Is A Dead-End Street—Year After Year, Plastic Recycling Declines Even as Plastic Waste Increases.” The group’s overall policy remains delusional—the report proposes a far more harmful alternative to recycling—but it’s nonetheless encouraging to see environmentalists put aside their obsessions long enough to contemplate reality.

The Greenpeace report offers a wealth of statistics and an admirably succinct diagnosis: “Mechanical and chemical recycling of plastic waste has largely failed and will always fail because plastic waste is: (1) extremely difficult to collect, (2) virtually impossible to sort for recycling, (3) environmentally harmful to reprocess, (4) often made of and contaminated by toxic materials, and (5) not economical to recycle.” Greenpeace could have added a sixth reason: forcing people to sort and rinse their plastic garbage is a waste of everyone’s time. But then, making life more pleasant for humans has never been high on the green agenda.

The "far more harmful alternative" Greenpeace is pushing now is banning plastic, starting with "single-use" plastic. Summary: after governments and businesses have wasted billions of dollars (and also wasting untold hours of business/citizen/consumer time) on a failed policy, let's impose an even more heavy-handed policy of prohibition.

Personal note: I recycle, even though I'm sure it's mostly pointless and stupid. The current rules at my local dump are bizarre, nearly requiring an undergrad course in materials science. For "mixed paper" recycling, cereal boxes are "Acceptable", while soft drink and beer pack holders are "Not Acceptable".

I gave up trying to figure out the difference in the composition of a Cheerios box and a Diet Dr Pepper box.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 4:41 AM EDT