Is recycling really better than trashing it?

I am a big fan of recycling, but have increasingly come to question the reality of the true costs.

Re: Curbside collection to expand? Survey (CVC Oct 2/15)

I am a big fan of recycling, but have increasingly come to question the reality of the true costs. What is the big picture? What is the real total cash cost to citizens and the actual environmental costs vs. environmental savings?

Before we all jump on the bandwagon in favour of more recycling, I would like to suggest that the CVRD survey include the following cost estimates so citizens are not blindly selecting the socially-acceptable, feel-good choices if there are more realistic, sensible options.

This is what I would like to know from the CVRD:

What if we had no recycling? What would be the cost to pick up and dispose of all household trash, including paper, cardboard, glass, plastic, organics — everything except large items, electronics, hazardous paints, etc.? Give the cost estimate assuming the use of an automated-lift truck making the rounds of a neighbourhood every week to empty standard provided containers. Include cost breakdowns for everything — staffing, administration, tipping fees, capital costs, fuel, maintenance, etc. Of course, trash amounts would have to be estimated for Areas A, B, C, and H.

What are we paying now for separate trash collection and recycling? Again, this is a tricky question because many in the CVRD use private contractors. Give your best estimates, broken down by areas. Assume all automated-lift trucks. Include cost breakdowns for everything — staffing, administration, tipping fees, capital costs, fuel, maintenance, etc.

Of course these costs should reflect the necessity for multiple standard provided containers. Are there additional administrative costs for having two pickup programs?

What income is returned through the sale of recycling items? Estimate and include the amounts that consumers paid out in container recycling fees.

What would we be paying if we had collection of separate trash and recycling and organics? Another container for each household, special liner bags for organics, lower tipping fees and higher income due to organics, additional administration — trucks, fuel, maintenance costs?

Include in each of the above all other costs of collection, disposal and recycling — regardless of how they are funded. For example, Multi-Material BC (MMBC) is less than transparent, but is essentially fully funded by citizens. What is that costing us per capita? I know I just paid 72 cents, plus GST of four cents, for 12 tetra pak litres of apple juice. That 76 cents seems excessive for the privilege of recycling.

And we want to know the environmental costs for each choice too. What are the differences in harmful emissions with one-two-three trucks making the rounds? One truck stopping once to pick up everything will certainly have total lower emissions than three trucks each stopping at every residence. Distances to landfills or recycling or organics drop-offs must be taken into account. There may be increased methane produced with one-stop dumping (though that could be harvested).

It’s my understanding that collecting and recycling some items actually uses more energy and resources than manufacturing products from clean raw materials. Are we doing a whole lot of extra work and paying more in fees and expenses, to our detriment?

I have read a lot of articles about the declining benefits of recycling. Some jurisdictions are now paying to dump their recyclables because they cannot sell them. And if things are not going well in densely populated big cities with many potential industrial buyers, what hope have we here?

As I am becoming increasingly fed up with sorting my household trash –—garbage, recycling, organics, glass, electronics, batteries, CFLs, hazardous waste (paint, etc.) — I have been wondering how most people have the space to store all this stuff? And increasingly, why am I doing this?! I am a rule-follower, but looking around, it seems there are an awful lot of people who mysteriously never have any garbage or recycling. Or it’s all recycling. And I’m the only one I know who doesn’t put batteries and CFLs in the trash.

So I think it’s time our decision-makers stepped back for a moment to reassess the big picture. Because I suspect that recycling may not be as rosy as we once believed. And once residents have a better idea of the actual costs of recycling vs. the benefits, both economically and environmentally, we may want to ask ourselves if it’s really worth it.

Finally, and most telling, “The CVRD currently ships 19,000 tonnes of garbage annually to a landfill in the United States.” How green is that?


Lori Hamilton

Cobble Hill