Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The recycling ritual

The push to get us all to recycle has got very little to do with whether it will save precious resources, reduce waste or protect the environment. Recycling is really about being a responsible person.

This was brought home to me when I was interviewed for BBC Radio Newcastle earlier today. After listening to a vox pop of various listeners chiding the breakfast show presenter for not recycling enough, I was asked for my comments. I pointed out that, while for a few specific types of waste, recycling could be an efficient way of producing new goods, for the most part it was a waste of time. My own local council collects two types of waste for recycling and composting - paper and garden waste - both of which, literally, grow on trees. Generally, recycling doesn't make much sense by the traditional measure of productivity ie, whether it saves labour. But even on the 'green' measure of saving resources, the process of separation, collection and processing may be wasteful, too.

The reaction was that I was being irresponsible and we all had to 'do our bit' for the planet. There was no justification in terms of whether 'doing our bit' made any sense. Recycling, it seems, is a ritual by which we can offer penance for the sin of consumption: 'bless me Father, for I have binned' as it were. If such a view were to become truly ingrained, it would suggest that we give up on the possibility of increasing wealth and ending poverty, and accept stagnation instead. That really would be a sin.

Bin these authoritarian policies, by Rob Lyons


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