Save Part of Your Own Life: Don't Recycle

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

John Stossel recently wrote a short column debunking all the standard "arguments" I've ever heard for recycling.

On its factual merits, one would be astounded that anyone follows the practice, and yet here we are, about 30 years after blue bins started popping up once a week in neighborhoods around the country.

Stossel titles the piece, "The Religion of Recycling," and I think he may be more on the money than he realizes.

Yes, the practice has its complex, nonsensical "commandments" and rituals, and it flies in the face of his simple arguments against it, like this:

I don't take orders from bullies, but I disliked the left less when they still said, 'Question authority.' (Image by Amy Shamblen, via Unsplash, license.)
Landfills have plenty of room for that. In fact, America has more space than we will ever need. Sometimes states and businesses even compete to get our garbage.

"If you think of the United States as a football field," says [John] Tierney, "all the garbage that we will generate in the next 1,000 years would fit inside a tiny fraction of the one-inch line."

Putting garbage in landfills is often much cheaper than recycling. My town would save $340 million a year if it just stopped recycling.

But they won't, "because people demand it," says Tierney. "It's a sacrament of the green religion."
The analogy to a religious ritual is good, but incomplete. Yes, taking out the recycling is a ritual that many people have automatized, along with the notion that checking that box is moral. And most people simply adopt traditions without question.

But the description is a near-miss because it doesn't really call the whole idea of religion into question. Conservatives will read this and smirk at the "false" religion of the left, and any leftists who bother to acknowledge the column's existence, much less read it, will probably find some small point to nit-pick and basically forget everything else, their faith intact. (Thanks, Progressive education!)

I have no quarrel with comparing environmentalism to a religion. Maybe it is a religion. And perhaps we should consider the merits, not just of the ritual of recycling, but of religion itself. Ayn Rand did a fine, economical job of this in an interview with Playboy Magazine decades ago:
Playboy: Has no religion, in your estimation, ever offered anything of constructive value to human life?

Rand: Qua religion, no -- in the sense of blind belief, belief unsupported by, or contrary to, the facts of reality and the conclusions of reason. Faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life: it is the negation of reason. But you must remember that religion is an early form of philosophy, that the first attempts to explain the universe, to give a coherent frame of reference to man's life and a code of moral values, were made by religion, before men graduated or developed enough to have philosophy. And, as philosophies, some religions have very valuable moral points. They may have a good influence or proper principles to inculcate, but in a very contradictory context and, on a very -- how should I say it? -- dangerous or malevolent base: on the ground of faith. [bold added]
Rand both "gives the angels their due" here, so to speak, and nails down what's wrong with religion, when man, the rational animal, consumes it.

Religion induces men to run their lives, not by consulting evidence and logic, but by the dictates of others, accepted arbitrarily.

Everything Stossel says about recycling as a wasteful and harmful practice is true, but, like many litanies for and against recycling, it does not explain to any individual the real, selfish harm of recycling.

In my case, I recognized it as soon as our leftist media made it its business to bombard us from every direction with the alleged virtues of recycling, starting about 1990.

What a waste of time! I thought.

Beyond sometimes setting out cardboard back in Baltimore, and only because I was limited to one trash can a week on garbage day, I have never recycled.

On the generous assumption that recycling consumes only ten minutes a week -- which would barely cover setting out and bringing in the bins and ignores money stolen to fund recycling -- I have saved ten entire days of my own life by abstaining from this wasteful, mindless ritual for the past thirty years.

That's a pretty good return on simply demanding a good reason to do something before making it into a ritual -- which in this context is really just a habit one has tricked oneself into believing is The Right Thing to Do.

-- CAV


: Corrected a typo.


Anonymous said...

Hi Gus,

I think you meant 'their due' not 'there due'.

I like the fact that I have a recycling bin that is as big as my regular garbage bin. That way when I threw away all the magazines I've accumulated over the decades, I didn't have to pay extra for exceeding my allotment. Just dropped them all into the blue cart and wheeled them out to the curb.

I basically use it when I have 'recyclables' that would exceed the capacity of my regular garbage bin. I use it as an adjunct.

c andrew

Atlas said...

"Religion is false" says Dr. John Ridpath. "It is false on the grandest scale imaginable and it has destroyed on the grandest scale imaginable! It cannot escape that because it has in fact abandoned first of all the means of life -- reason, in order to transcend the place of life -- this earth, for the purpose of denying the purpose of life -- which is to be happy here and now. And given that, it cannot have failed to have accomplished what it did. It has pre-empted whole areas of thought which are concerned with the bringing of thought to the application of action, in particular the field of morality which it has pre-empted and turned against life itself.
Religion has taken the most glorious concepts of a rational morality such as for example exaltation, worship, reverence, sacred, and it has not only removed those concepts from our lives, but it has actually removed them from this earth, taken them up into the sky and turned them into moral thunderbolts to be launched back down at us and to incinerate us in our efforts to live life.
It has taken the concept of ultimate value beyond this earth and it has used it to diminish and demean everything that is here.
It has taken human life, which is potentially challenging, productive, successful, tall, joyous, proud, and it has turned it into an anxiety ridden torture.
It has turned it into a denial of ourselves in which we then crawl in obedience and fear and seek release from all of this by denouncing everything which we are and everything which we have.

Gus Van Horn said...


Thanks for the correction.

Yes, back in Baltimore, I basically was doing what you do. The county was trying to "encourage" recycling by limiting how much you could toss out in the trash each week, and it resulted in me getting rid of Amazon boxes around Christmas time each year through the recycling system.


Nice quote. Thanks for sharing it.