A recycling bin.

A widely-shared New York Times opinion piece by John Tierney, “The Reign of Recycling,” argues that recycling programs are typically inefficient and ineffective. Leading environmentalists are questioning the article’s conclusions and say the ecological benefits of recycling are clear. The debate comes as California works to meet an ambitious goal — to recycle or compost 75 percent of its waste by 2020. That’s just five years away, and currently the state recycles around 50 percent of its waste.

Guests:
Edward Humes, author of "Garbology: Our Dirty Love Affair With Trash"
Julian Morris, vice president of research, Reason Foundation
Mark Murray, executive director, Californians Against Waste

  • Ron

    Recycling is certainly worth it. The cost of reusing plastic and glass and paper to manufacture new products is far less than using brand-new products. And recycling keeps valuable waste out of landfills. The question is not whether recycling is worth it, the question is has this journalist being bought by special interests. It is the height of unreason and irrationality to suggest that using more energy to manufacture and producing more waste are in any way preferable. We have only one planet; let’s protect it.

    • beachmama

      Less than 2% of “recycled” plastic is actually recycled here. In Sonoma County there is a backlog of plastic being stored in warehouses and they believe it will continue to accumulate for over a year. The system is flawed. The push needs to be to stop manufacturing single-use plastic. I remember in my lifetime when single use plastic did not exist.

  • EIDALM

    The current state of affair of short lived electronics made today near all in China is terrible and devastating to the environment and human safety on the planet ,with many toxic elements including selenium ,Lithium , Zinc , Nickel ,copper ,Mercury ,Arsenic ,and others are mostly disposed off and dumped in garbage cans and eventually end up in landfills and dumps ,that pollute ground water and plants and eventually makes to our body with the net effect of health hazard to all living creatures on the planet…..Recycling and re use of all of this elements is a must ,not a luxury

    • Robert Chen

      Everything came from earth and going back to earth. They are under the ground for millions of years, and we drink water from it. Don’t blame China, or Apple, or anyone else. We choose to buy those products and enjoy them.

      • ed

        No ,no ,not in this pure and high concentrations.,and most they are in very small concentrations ,and spread all over the world and deep underground.

  • EIDALM

    In the past all consumer electronic products including television ,stereos ,and other lasted as long as 30 or even 40 years ,now the same kind of products have an average life of 5 years or less ,it is the planned obsolescence of the extreme case ,as more and more of those short lived products go bad ,the more junk China sells ,and the more and more profits deceptive and conspicuous companies like Apple and others make more and more profits as it the case of the extremely flimsy I phones who are so easy to break even by slight pressure or little fall

  • EIDALM

    As an example of the big planned obsolescence of current consumer electronics companies as it is the case of Apple corporation ,not only their products are extremely flimsy and very fragile ,their constant change of models ,some many times unnecessary ,and more to often than is needed ,,,and wrongly advance the sale of their new models ,when the fact is most people will do well using their older model phones ,but eventually many of a year old to 3 year old models are disposed of to buy newer model which often does not offer a great advantage over the older model .infact older I phones were far better made and far sturdier than the new i Phone 6 for example.

  • EIDALM

    The low quality and extreme flimsiness of Apple new I phones have created a huge repair industry ,because of Apple price fixing schemes and their exploitation of their customers ,where a new model phone can cost more than 700 dollars ,that piece of gem when it breaks people are more than happy to pay several hundred dollars to have repaired….i Phone repair companies are sprouting all over the country with may small companies do as many 100 i Phone repairs a day ,what a bunch of misled oversold on Apple products consumers.

  • EIDALM

    Another extreme anti environmental behavior of Apple corporation is their constant changing of their phone chargers with each model .that lead to many of these old chargers thrown in the garbage can and eventually to the land fell ,and where all other phones manufactures now use the same micro USB charger as the U S government have demanded some years ago ,Apple phones including the new models still use their own propertiery chargers which they sell for $ 39.99 when you can buy it from your own neighborhood store for five dollars

  • EIDALM

    Please stop buying Apple products till they become more environment friendly ,stop using price fixing schemes that robs their customers where their products sell for more than 3 times more than should ,stop using slave labor in China ,bring all of these manufacture and technical jobs back to the U S ,bring their headquarter from overseas to evade paying taxes which can add up to trillions of dollars ,and pay their fair share of taxes.

  • EIDALM

    Several years when president Obama visited Silicon Valley , Obama asked Steve Jobs ,if there is any way Apple Corporations can bring all or some of the jobs they send to China back to America , Steve Jobs reply to the president was Well Mr presidents these jobs will never come back to the U S what terrible answer ,both he and others in Silicon Vally as well as Bill Gates have initiated the HB1 and HB2 which lead to the demise of tens of thousands highly paid of Hi Tech American jobs who were replaced by mostly people from India who were paid far less than the fired high tech American people…..What a terrible shame,,,,,SAD,…This why were we are today with the the lf demise of the American middle class .

  • Looking forward to joining today’s discussion.

    Recycling is essential, but only part of the solution to rampant wastefulness in America, where we throw out more stuff than most other major economies. The former head of sustainability for Walmart, Rob Kaplan, has an excellent fact check of the NYT Reign of Recycling piece (spoiler alert: the piece has few facts, many errors). You can find a link to it, and other recycling info, here: https://www.facebook.com/Garbology

  • Grainger

    Question for the guests how do landfill contracts affect recycling goals?

    • Chance Shelley

      The lower the landfill rate, the more economical it is to bury the material instead of processing, sorting, & baling. This is especially true for refuse companies who own their own landfills (like WM). A higher landfill disposal rate does create an incentive to divert more but typically that cost has to be reflected in the residential collection rate because it is not always fully recouped in the recycling market. This is especially true with commercial composting facilities who continually have to operate a minimal margins to keep their tip fee lower than that of landfills.

  • NorcalGeek

    Economic analysis typically only considers short term costs, and so recycling may well not be profitable.

    But what is the alternative? Are we going to fill mountains of plastic waste, e-waste etc in landfills ? There is no credible alternative to recycling as I see it.

  • Kurt thialfad

    What’s to be done about this army of recycling poachers who go through all my trash, often leaving refuse on the sidewalk? I don’t want anyone going through my trash, as I consider it an invasion of my privacy. What should I do law-enforcement-wise if I catch someone going through my trash bins?

  • Ben Rawner

    What about the pollutants floating in the ocean and the nasty chemicals that are leaching out of landfills. For this reason alone it seems like recycling makes the most sense. What does ur anti-recycling guest think about these issues?

  • fakeanonymousguest

    San Jose has been a worldwide leader in recycling (but not composting). Is the author suggesting we go back to returnable bottles with a deposit?

  • Richard West

    For products with a high energy input cost yes, recycle them. But for everything else no. I would suggest that the best option is a co-gen station and concert the waste to energy.

    • Doug F

      Those have the disadvantage of creating more CO2–although if they’re only used to replace other powerplants burning coal or natural gas, it’s not so bad. Hamburg, Germany, uses a high-temp cogenerating incinerator to get zero landfill for the city of 1.7 million, & superheated steam for building heat miles away via underground pipes. .

    • Another Mike

      Burning garbage is an environmental nightmare. The composition of toxic metals and chlorinated organics in municipal refuse are relatively high and can result in the airborne emissions of these compounds. In addition to conventional criteria pollutants, municipal solid waste (MSW) incinerators have been identified as significant emitters of acid gases, heavy metals and chlorinated organics. Further, the ash from these incinerators, which must be disposed of in landfills, contain toxic levels of lead and cadmium.

  • Doug F

    Is Tierney still a climate change denier? He at least used to be. Not exactly a good start in qualifying a writer to discuss this matter.

  • fakeanonymousguest

    Why don’t we have more waste-fired power plants with carbon recapture, like Northern Europe? Wouldn’t this be preferable to methane gas filled landfill and burning coal for energy?

    • Doug F

      N Europe (especially Germany) has many city waste incinerators that are also steam cogeneration plants, & very low emissions of any pollutants other than CO2 thanks to stack scrubbers & filters. I agree that they’re a good idea vs those alternatives, but I’m not aware of any large operational plants that do carbon recapture, only small prototypes. If you have links for any working examples, please post–I didn’t see any in a quick search.

  • It’s certainly worth it for restaurants!! I work at a busy, large restaurant. and each garbage station has 3 receptacles for compostable waste, recyclables, and landfill trash. A HUGE amount of the waste in a restaurant is compostable, and we also generate a large amount of bulky recyclables, mostly from the bar’s beer, wine and liquor bottles. The actual landfill trash consists of thermal paper receipts, straws, twist-ties, plastic wrap and packaging, bottle caps, and really, not much more. At the end of the night, the entire 165 seat restaurant, in which we serve about 400 guests each night, generates only 4 full 23 gallon cans of landfill waste.

    The employees are actually pretty into it–we often get some great ideas for recycling and saving water from them. It’s really very easy to separate waste as they are working, and no one grumbles about it. Perhaps because this is San Francisco, there is a high degree of education and awareness about recycling and composting amongst the staff.

    I do get comments from visiting tourists (always American, mind you) about the array of 3 trash cans behind the bar, and what a terrible, awful hassle that must be. I can only assume that they don’t have much of a recycling program at home, and view our SF-style system as some kind of onerous “gummint” intrusion. I’ll kindly explain to them how very easy it really is, and how it’s simply become a part of our lives here in Libtard Moonbat-land; they still shake their heads in disbelief of how insanely difficult and invasive it all is.

  • Another Mike

    For fun, I once tried composting a “compostable cup” in my backyard composter. After a few months I had a crumbly humus, except for the cup,which was shattered but otherwise intact.

    • c_woof

      One of the Olympics used material made from potatoes for its ‘fast’ food containers, which was edible (but not very enjoyable to eat) and easily broke down in a short while. It functioned just like the Styrofoam products.
      I haven’t heard of why that wasn’t tried anywhere else.

  • Gina Risso

    Totally agree that the companies making and selling the products should be responsible for recycling and disposal of the product. Two examples: What about batteries? I have to drive all over the county to recycle them. Why can’t the retailers that sell them be responsible for recycling them? at least have a drop off site in their store.
    Kids Car seats-they expire after 5 years and they end up in the land fill. The companies that make them, should have a recycling program built in.

  • Robert Chen

    Banning plastic shopping bags has no merit. We end up to buy more garbage bags. How the plastic bags end up in the ocean is a mystery for me. They should go to the landfill. The real solution is bio degradable bags.

    • Doug F

      They, & most of that other plastic stuff, end up in the ocean because people drop them in gutters & they get washed into storm drains, by street cleaning or, if you remember the phenomenon, rain. I pick up a lot of trash, most of it recyclable, when I walk the dog daily, & fast food is definitely the worst culprit in generating it & encouraging buyers to dispose of it irresponsibly.

      “Biodegradable” plastic isn’t very. The real solution is to force consumers to bring, or buy, reusable bags. Just like grandma used to have. Among disposable bags, plastic is far worse than paper.

      • Another Mike

        Grandma carried her groceries in paper bags.

        • c_woof

          OK. Great-grandma.

    • Genevieve Abedon

      First off, if we consumed less and created more waste the need to fill garbage bags/recycling bins would decrease. I create very little waste and dump when I do create straight into the bins, reusing the bags in my cans. Second of all, plastic bags (and other plastics) are so light that they oftentimes blow away en route to the landfill or from the landfill landing in trees or local waterways that lead to the ocean. The term “biodegradable” warrants a particular time period in a specific environment. Thus it is extremely difficult to define and execute. Technically everything is “biodegradable” whether it takes 3 months or 300 years. And something that “biodegrades” in soil might not act the same way in the marine environment. The REAL solution is to REFUSE to use bags, and like Doug F said, bring your own. Paper has it’s own, and quite high, carbon footprint as well. But since everyone’s convenience is harming the environment, including wildlife like sea turtles that mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, and consumers aren’t taking the matter into their own hands, banning them is an easy solution.

    • beachmama

      I clean up the beach where I live several times a week. The bulk of what I gather is single use plastic, plastic bags and cheap plastic beach toys. More than once I have picked up a collection of picnic items and toys in one area . . . people sit, enjoy the ocean, stand up and leave all their trash behind. It’s shocking how disconnected we’ve become . . .

  • Beth Grant DeRoos

    We follow Bea (Bay a) Johnson’s Zero Waste Home and produce around a gallon of items every couple months that cannot be recycled or composted. The #1 thing is to REFUSE to buy new stuff in the first place. And when buying food use your own container as she stresses for deli, meat, produce, bulk food items. Her motto is Refuse Reduce Reuse, Recycle, Rot. She did a couple recent Google talks. We have a composter so what kitchen food waste we have is composted.

    http://www.zerowastehome
    https://youtu.be/Y80bAvdDWEk Bea Johnson, Bettina Limaco, Michael O’Heaney: “Rethink Your Waste” | Talks at Google
    https://youtu.be/nmfDTtduRh4 Bea Johnson: “Zero Waste Home” | Talks at Google

    • Genevieve Abedon

      Love her! And Beth Terry’s “My Plastic-Free Life” as well… REFUSING is easy, fun, and necessary!

      • Beth Grant DeRoos

        Genevive Abedon LOVE your name and thank you for mentioning Beth Terry. Love Beth Terry and follow her blog http://www.myplasticfreelife.com

        Beth Terry was on Forum | Aug 01, 2012 – 10:00 AM
        http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201208011000
        A (Mostly) Plastic-Free Life
        In 2007, Oakland’s Beth Terry decided to give up plastic after seeing a picture of a dead seabird, its stomach filled with plastic bottle caps. Her decision spawned a blog, a book and a movement to make people aware of how much plastic they consume. We’ll talk to Terry about how, and why, people should reduce their plastic use, from changes obvious (carry your own reusable water bottle) to the surprising (kick that chewing gum habit).

  • AuntyEntropy

    “Waste” isn’t waste until it’s wasted. It’s resources. I run a profitable reuse company, employ 38 staff, and my company brings in $2.6 million a year. Recycling is twice as big as wasting now, financially. Also it isn’t only about money. The economics have to factor in replacing the resources that are discarded, including the climate impacts of extraction. Wasting already-refined resources by landfilling or burning for electricity means those resources have to be replaced by cutting more forests and mining new minerals from the land. But forests are already being cut faster than they can grow back, and virgin minerals are diminishing. Reducing, Reusing, and Recycling is the only way to stretch them out. John Tierney interviewed only Waste Management, which can’t make its required 15 percent profit by selling mishandled resources for low values. There were 50,000 small recycling companies in the country in 2004, and we’ve grown since then. But Mr. Tierney didn’t interview any recyclers, only wasters. His piece is biased. His first attack piece was in 1996. Why The Times lets him into its pages is a mystery. If you’re not for Zero Waste, how much waste are you for?

  • EIDALM

    There is a definite collusion between American High Tech companies and Chinese factories to make flimsy , short lived ,throw away products ,the more sales they make and the more profit for both….I took Apple products as an example ,but the same arguments apply to most other brands as well.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor