“Hey, you put that non-recyclable plastic into the recycling bin” or “Hey, you put that recyclable plastic into the trash bin!” These are scoldings that are heard frequently. “Is it really important? Do I really have to care about where this ends up? How will my life change?” These are retorts often thought but seldom uttered. In this first blog post for my You and the World project, I seek to answer those questions, and talk a little bit about poop (which will make sense soon, I promise).
To start, let’s establish that things can’t be recycled infinitely- every iteration of an item can’t be used as the thing it was last, as quality is lost every time something is reconstituted. A prime example from HowStuffWorks is paper. Paper’s second life will be of a lower quality, meaning it might be lined instead of copy paper. After that, it might not be able to surface as paper at all, and someone might take personal initiative to turn their paper into art or furniture, at which point it has reached the approximate end of its lifecycle. Americans mostly know their job in this (even if they don’t follow through); recycle plastics, papers, and metals, throw out everything else. But is there a point at which it isn’t worth recycling something? Is there a point at which something isn’t a resource, it is merely garbage? Michael C Munger thinks so. He believes that if any item can’t be clearly and efficiently turned into another useful item, it may be just as eco-friendly to shift our focus entirely off of reusing trash and onto turning real, usable materials into energy.
Materials like cow feces (see now?). I’m not limiting the terms “real” and “usable” to poop, but it certainly applies. Here is an interesting infographic on the subject- the most interesting thing it points out, however, is this: “Two adjacent dairy farms in Rexville, WA produce enough methane to provide electricity for about 1,000 homes.” That’s twelve-hundred cows fueling one-thousand homes. That’s incredible. That raises a very important question: why is this not more widespread?
These guys make lots and lots and lots of gas. Like, a lot.
I’m not trying to refute the usefulness of recycling-bin type recycling- whether or not that’s truly effective is not an easily answerable question. Some say recycling isn’t even really followed through with. There is no debate on one front, however: green energy is good. I can’t imagine anyone could disagree with saving the environment and saving money.
Recycling is more than just putting things in a bin (though that can help). Recycling is reusing materials, ideally in a way that makes the repercussions tangible. That means composting, and solar panels, and turbines. In a world where so much money is spent on creating energy in processes in which so much exhaust is output while we have the capabilities to cut that price and to clean those emissions, why do we continue? For my You and the World project, I want to help people (my own family included) meaningfully recycle.
Check out my annotated bibliography here.