The June 30 New York Times Sunday magazine article ``Recycling is garbage'' by John Tierney represents the latest broadside from the anti-recycling crusaders, who, relying heavily on the superficial analyses of right-wing think tanks, declare themselves, like Claude Rains in ``Casablanca'' - ``Shocked, shocked!'' - to discover recycling's imperfections. Littered with half-truths and contradictions, Tierney's hyperbolic diatribe sets up a series of straw men dominoes and then, with all the analytical depth of a college freshman, proceeds to smugly knock them over to his own self-satisfaction.
Thus from the rarefied confines of New York, he sees the publicity generated by the wandering Mobro trash barge as responsible for a hysterical overreaction by a guilt-ridden public to what he now sagaciously concludes was a false garbage crisis. Worse yet, the ensuing deluge of laws mandating recycling with rigid diversion quotas and forced purchasing of recycled-content products, which Tierney, the Northeasterner, fantasizes as endemic throughout the country, has turned waste into a political and moral issue which blinds us to the true economics of recycling. With cold-eyed clarity, he uncovers a conspiracy of selfish and self-interested environmentalists, bureaucrats and educators that has skillfully manipulated the public's emotional need to atone for their consumptive excesses by perpetuating a crisis mentality which serves only to keep the pro-recycling plotters parasitically employed and distract the citizenry from more important social problems.
Sentimentally recalling 19th century capitalism, Tierney wrote all would be well if we would just quit interfering with the free market and continue merrily extracting virgin resources to make our products, while applauding the economic benefits landfills provide in terms of creating jobs and enhancing the tax base.
Although it would be well-nigh impossible to sort out all of Tierney's illogical gyrations, let's at least examine his major thesis that recycling represents false economy. If Tierney had bothered to travel those 20 miles in Virginia from Charles City to Richmond, he might have discovered a study done by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a somewhat less-ideological research group than the Cato Institute or the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Its report, ``Recycling Means Business,'' in BioCycle magazine [August 1995] outlines research in the tri-city region of Richmond, Baltimore and Washington, which found recycling waste materials far surpasses any economic benefits derived from disposal.
``Revenues from the recycling industry total more than $2.1 billion regionally, whereas revenues from waste disposal amount to less than $404 million. A ton of material disposed generates only $40 in revenues, primarily from tipping fees,'' according to the report.
ISLR additionally found that, ``More than 5,100 individuals are employed in recycling as compared to a little over 1,100 jobs sustained by waste disposal, despite four times as much material going to disposal.''
It is revealing of Tierney's bias that he consistently chooses to applaud only jobs generated by traditional disposal methods, while the jobs created through recycling are condemned as a waste of time and resources.
As far as potential revenues from either option, he is undeterred by common sense, which suggests that receiving some money for waste, if even only a little, is better than having to pay to bury it.
Tierney is equally oblivious to the not-so-hidden costs that often accompany the exploitation/extraction of virgin resources, which he insists is economically preferable to recycling, naively believing the price of most products usually reflects the cost of their impact on the environment.
Beyond the outrageous subsidies available to those allowed to log, mine and graze upon federal lands at below market-value prices, the gargantuan cost of the Gulf War alone, waged primarily to protect American's most beloved natural resource, oil (the stuff that plastic comes from, remember?), should cause Tierney to pause and recalculate his economics.
One can also recall a boat called the Valdez which had something to do with virgin extraction, but then I suppose it also created a lot of clean-up jobs.