Everywhere you look, from the grocery store to the clothing store and hardware store, consumers are presented with various products labeled with the word "recycled". Many people, myself included, gravitate towards these products because I believe we are making a better choice for our environment. However, I pose a question, "are we making a better choice?"
The year was 1970, millions of people stepped outside for peaceful demonstrations while demanding environmental reform in the first celebration of Earth Day. One product of this movement was a design competition led by the Container Corporation of America. The CCA wanted to create a recognizable symbol to be used by any manufacturer engaged in recycling. Gary Anderson, a young college student would be responsible for the circular arrow design we have come to know today.
There are several products we use every day that are made from recycled materials such as: cereal boxes, bottles, paint, paper, concrete and floor coverings. If you decide to purchase these products then you are completing the recycling loop. In addition, recycled materials also become new products that are different from their original uses. Many of these show up in the building industry such as carpet made from plastic soda/water bottles and asphalt or concrete that incorporates recycled glass.
Items such as paper and aluminum are also reported to be practical for recycling because aluminum can be used again and again and countries like China, depend on our paper waste to make paper goods.
As I continued to research and answer my own question, "are we making a better choice by recycling?" I discovered evidence that indicates maybe not every location should recycle certain items such as, glass. Not all recycling facilities can accept glass, and some facilities have to transport the glass recyclables at least 200 miles away. Furthermore, in some larger cities, residents are urged to recycle and they are provided separate plastic bins for separating recyclable materials. In doing this, cities also had to increase their fleets of waste disposal trucks to keep up with the demands of transporting these recyclables. While it sounds like the best of intentions, it does contribute to the growing pollution problem.
In an intervew with economist Holly Fretwell, Research Fellow at Property Environmentand Research Center and an adjunct instructor at Montana State University, she makes a claim that the U.S. at its current rate of trash production would have enough landfill space for the next 100 years on one of Ted Turner's expansive ranches with 50,000 acres to spare. Fretwell also makes note of the positive results that come out of landfills. They are carefully lined and sealed once full and then cities have built beaches, or parks, and even ski resorts all above a pile of waste.
While doing further research on landfills I stumbled upon another question - are landfills really that bad? I know, they have a pretty bad rap. They are unsightly, the smell can be rather intoxicating, and just plain gross. However, I came across several examples of what a landfill looks like once it's sealed and I was impressed. Some examples worth noting are:
One positive thing to take note of: now we have these beautiful park spaces and conservation land that could have been asphalt and concrete.
At the end of the day, are we making a better choice? I guess it depends on what you decide to recycle or not. Maybe it depends where you live. Maybe, we have to accept that both worlds need to co-exist. Landfills and Recycling Centers. At least we can ride on our recycled skateboards over the skate park - landfills.