Obviously, talking about recyclability from a financial point of view is going to be a complex discussion. Even if we just confine the topic to how much it costs, in actually money, to recycle normal household items (aluminum, plastic & paper) the subject still gets extremely complicated: who has the contract in that area for collecting and hauling recyclables? How far does the stuff have to be hauled? Who does the actual recycling? How much does that cost? What is the demand in that area and at that time for the recycled material? Will it end up in the landfill anyway? These are just a few questions that need to be addressed to even begin to have a financial discussion about recyclability, and it doesn't even scratch the surface of the topic. What about all of the other things that might be recycled, such as water, petroleum products and construction materials, just to name a few? And how do we weigh the costs that go beyond money? What about the air and water pollution caused by re-manufacturing all that material, and the energy that is consumed in the process?
There is no question that some recycling is a good thing, but we shouldn't just assume that recycling is always the best thing. According to J. Winston Porter, president of the Waste Policy Center and former policy administrator for the EPA, "there's a point at which you shouldn't just recycle for recycling's sake." Quoted in an article in the Washington Examiner (http://washingtonexaminer.com/local/dc/too-much-green-millions-spent-recycling), he goes on to say that the greatest negative impact of the recycling process comes from trying to haul too much too far. It's sort of a catch 22, because it's much more politically popular to engage in the recycle process than it is to build a landfill, but a lot of the recycle process isn't helping the environment or saving energy. For instance, recycling glass is a net loser. Ground glass is essentially sand and not inherently harmful in a landfill. Collecting it, hauling it and storing it is probably more harmful to the environment by adding all those vehicle emissions than just letting it rest in a landfill. On the other hand, glass is heavy and helps localities reach their target recycling goals (which are calculated by weight).
It just seems to me that the recycling madness is one of those things that could and should be a good thing but, like so many other things, has been perverted by politics and the demands of uninformed do-gooders.
In contrast to the above bitch session, let me share with you something that looks like a real recycling success story. In June of 2009, the Seattle Times featured and article about Mike and Tricia Barry from Danville, California, who basically recycled a whole house! After they purchased a 1950s bungalow on a prime lot, they discovered that the home's foundation was bad, the rooms were too small, and it wasn't up to code. They decided the whole thing had to go. Being environmentally friendly types, the couple chose to have their home deconstructed for reuse rather than having it torn down with a bulldozer and dumped in a landfill. They hired a contractor licensed for deconstruction to take down the house and then California Deconstruction and Building Materials ReUse Network picked up the materials and brought them to Habitat for Humanity and other organizations, including Corazón, which helps build homes for people in northern Baja California, Mexico.
The last remnants of the old house in Danville, Calif., that was recycled or reused.