Is Recycling a Waste of Time?

Is Recycling a Waste of Time?

This Christmas, I asked “Santa” for a compost bin. Yes, the only thing this environmentalist wanted was a glorified trashcan. I always recycle, but I wanted to contribute to the composting program at the Gables (my home sweet home), and this new “toy” would enable me to do so. When I opened it, I was filled with the type of excitement that was only comparable to the Nintendo 64 Christmas of 1999.

The concept of waste and waste disposal has always fascinated meLandfill. I get a nerdy sense of accomplishment out of properly disposing of materials (Trash, recycling, compost, etc). For the most part, recycling has become common-place in today’s society. However, there are those that reject the practice altogether.

“Recycling-Rejecters” claim recycling does not make as much of an environmental impact as we have been taught to believe. In fact, recycling can actually be more harmful to the environment, not to mention the economy. This way of thinking has spread, and has even made its way to the pages of popular publications.

The ideology of the Recycling-Rejecter can be synthesized in The New York Times opinion piece entitled “The Reign of Recycling” by John Tierney.  Tierney attacks the act of recycling through rather imaginative accusations. He claims that recycling is more political than sustainable, and has only survived this long due to environmental activism. Recycling is more harmful to the environment, as the recycling process actually wastes more resources than it saves. He states that it is detrimental to job creation: since resources are being reused, there is less demand for jobs that collect those resources. He even claims that the water used to rinse out containers wastes more resources than recycling that product will ever save.

Is he right? Is recycling simply a big scam?

Fear not, my fellow green-hearted friends. No, recycling is not a scam. Recycling does offer a wide array of positive environmental impacts. The popular environmental website, Grist, posted a counter-argument entitled “Is Recycling as awful as the New York Times claims? Not remotely”. In terms of the economy, recycling can actually create new sustainable job sectors. In addition, Tierney does not take into account the negative effects of landfills. If people are not recycling, reusable products will sit forever in a landfill. Landfills take up space, and are often located in poorer section of cities and towns. In essence, recycling is not just a matter of environmental conscience, but social justice as well. Many of Tierney’s claims are simply untrue or based off of half-facts.

A simple web search will reveal the plethora of benefits recycling offers. Environment-green explains why and how recycling helps the environment. Some noteworthy facts include:

“By recycling 1 plastic bottle not only saves anywhere from 100 to 1000 years in the landfill but also saves the environment from the emissions in producing new bottles as well as the oil used to produce that bottle.”


“For every 1 ton of plastic that is recycled we save the equivalent of 2 people’s energy use for 1 year, the amount of water used by 1 person in 2 month’s time and almost 2000 pounds of oil.”

Recycling is not a waste of time. In fact, recycling is so helpful there is even a national competition to see which college or university can recycle the most in a given time period. Starting February 7th, UNH will be participating in Recyclemania, a nationwide competition in which participating schools compete to see who can recycle the most. During the competition, make sure to think twice about your waste choices. Get ready to unleash your inner recyclemaniac! Stay green wildcats.

For more information, please visit the Recyclemania website  and keep your eyes peeled for Recyclemania events around campus!