No Profit from Recycling

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"Analyses typically show that recycling does not pay from a private economic point of view."—Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish author, academic, and environmental writer.

Bjorn Lomborg, The Skeptical Environmentalist: Measuring the Real State of the World. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001, p. 209.

A few critics also challenge the idea that recycling is beneficial to the environment. Professor Daniel Benjamin, for example, claims that recycling itself is a manufacturing process that uses trucks and facilities and that produces greenhouse gases and other pollution just like other industries. He argues: "Curbside recycling . . . uses huge amounts of capital and labor per pound of material recycled. . . . The bulk of all curbside recycling programs simply waste resources."22 And according to Benjamin's view, modern municipal landfills are a safe alternative to recycling. He notes that the "EPA has concluded that landfills constructed according to agency regulations can be expected to cause a total of


[only] 5.7 cancer-related deaths over the next 300 years."23 It is the improper or illegal dumping of industrial wastes that is the real problem, he says, and recycling has no effect on these wastes.

Nor is there always a market for recycled goods. As Heather Rogers explains: "Recycled substances have to compete with 'virgin' raw materials for industrial buyers. Thanks to the billions of dollars in subsidies that extractive industries in the U.S. receive, virgin resources can often be cheaper than recycled. And when there's no market for recyclables, they become garbage."24 Indeed, Rogers argues that the recycling solution is inherently flawed because trash is an essential part of our economic system:

Garbage ... is the lifeblood of capitalism. Ever more consumption is what keeps our economic system moving forward. Capitalist growth and profitability depend as much on the destruction of wealth as on the production of it. While salvaging the value contained in a discarded but perfectly usable desk is rational from an environmental and social point of view, it is irrational and not useful for the furniture industry, which must produce and sell more and more desks in order to thrive. Ultimately, the environmental crisis, of which garbage is just a subset, is inseparable from the logic of our whole economic system.25

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