Why Recycling Coordinator Title Trumps Sustainability Coordinator

College and university recycling staff (CURC etc) kept in touch durint the Fair Trade Recycling Summit (Earth Week in Middlebury).  Some have confided that recycling is old hat, "sustainability" is in, and that energy and carbon are at their peak for "prestige" positions at their institutions.

Have always said our goal is for recycling to be taken for granted, to be as boring as laundromats.   But at the same time, if you are truly motivated by green, and ever have a chance at a career in recycling, grab it.

Here's why recycling is the best thing.

First things first, forget all about "waste management" and "zero waste".   We hitched the recycling wagon to the "waste management" pony for one reason.  No, it was not to preserve landfills, or avoid construction of incinerators.   Scrap and recycling has only one competitor - virgin material.

In order to compete with the mining and forest subsidies (e.g. the General Mining Act of 1872, passed during the Apache Indian Wars under the Ulysses S. Grant administration), scrap needed to compete with raw materials by claiming avoided disposal costs.

Recycling, reuse, repair.  They are ultimate environmental impact measures.  Don't quit your recycling job.

Why Recycling on Campus is Imperative.

Waste diversion was just an excuse to recycle paper and metals.   Why do we really recycle?

1.  Carbon.  That's right.  The most energy-intensive activities are mining and manufacturing, and most of the energy ever consumed by an object is embodied in its form.  The metal can didn't come out of a metal faucet, the copper wire didn't come out of a copper faucet.   They were smelted from ore mines at huge energy cost.  When the price of energy goes up, recycling scrap prices go up.

The one exception is commingled glass, and that's because no one is really recycling mixed glass any more.  The commingled curbside glass all gets ground up into rock (aggregate) and is no longer recycled into new glass.  So the energy savings aren't there, and it's a puzzle why we bother to put glass in recycling bins if it's not really being recycled back into glass.

2.  Endangered species.   Bushmeat and other jungle trade increases in direct proportion to miles of roads in the rain forests.  The biggest indicator of miles of roads are metal mining and forestry.  There's strong competition from beef and palm oil plantation farming, but those activities take the outskirts of the forest... ore mining and timber harvests pay for deep roads, deep in the forests, which expose animals to poachers.

3.  Non-renewable resources.   In addition to the high energy demands of virgin raw material industry, we have to actually be careful not to discard metals like copper.  It's insane to subsidize its extraction and then not make an effort to keep the metal around.  Even paper, while maintained as a renewable resource, is better managed when the fibers are kept in the marketplace.  Recycling is just good management of finite resources by a generation of humans (us) who are also finite and won't be around when our great-great-great grandchildren need these resources.

4.  Toxics.   For all my attempts to tame the hysterical cognitive dissonance around the "ju-ju word" of toxics falsely associated ("dirty little secret") with recycling, toxics are real and reducing them is important.  What single thing can we do to reduce the most toxics?  RECYCLE.   The cyanides and mercury pollution from hard rock mining is completely avoided when we recycle.  The bleach used to make tree fibers white can be avoided when we recycle paper.

5.  Jobs.   Recycling creates jobs.  Repair and reuse create even more jobs.  The free market recognizes "added value" in an item or product, and preserving that value is a high-value hour.  A job picking up twenty dollar bills is better than a job picking up a one dollar bill.

Paying people to incinerate or destroy stuff that has value to someone, or works, or to throw away materials that must be re-mined, may generate hours but does not produce more value than it wastes.  You can argue it based on capitalism or marxism.

I'll bet that if you take all the energy saved by recycling all the materials recycled at all the universities, you probably find more energy conservation than all the light-bulb and energy use measures (especially at institutions on inefficient energy grids, where 'saved' energy isn't really saved).   If you take all the toxics avoided from mining and refining, recyclers at univiersities probably reduced more toxics than all the hazardous waste management and treatment activities on campus.

About ten years ago, the "gotcha" speak of anti-recycling (or anti-export) caught a lot of recyclers off guard.  Perhaps we'd gotten complacent about our recycling titles and recycling jobs.

But if you look at the peak recycling ever done, it's during war, when brothers and fathers and mothers and sisterrs are on the front lines, dying, taking bullets and dodging bombs.   During war, when nothing else seems to matter, recycling programs operate at peak capacity.  Why on earth would the invisible hand of Adam Smith prioritize an environmental activity during such an emergency?

Recycling isn't liberal or conservative or radical.  It's more important than not peeing in your coffee in the morning.   Seriously, you'd be better off  doing that than letting go of recycling.  Recycling will always be cool.

Copper copper everywhere - but only exploited when it's far from city drinking water

PS.  An interesting question from a friend in Africa.   "Who put BAN.org in a position to represent Africans at Basel Convention?!"   In his view, it's like putting Greenpeace in charge of representing the Inuit tribes in the Arctic treaties.   It might sound like a good idea if you live a thousand miles away from the Arctic, but it turns out that Greenpeace and the Inuit are 180 degrees apart on most issues.   Assuming that a "watchdog" is the right person to represent "minorities" misunderstands both territory and minority.

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