Friday, November 06, 2009

Why, oh why, do I read the Globe?

Marcus Gee:
The Toronto waste department lets you put out overflow garbage if you mark it with a yellow tag, purchased at Canadian Tire for $3.10. But the garbage has to be bagged. So, on a cold and rainy night, I found myself trying to stuff the laundry hamper into a wet garbage bag, muttering curses as the broken edges of the hamper reduced the bag to shreds.

It was a minor hassle and I would have been happy to endure it if I thought I was helping to save the planet. The trouble is that I don’t. Most recycling is a giant waste of time and money...
Oh, goody. It had been so long since Gee had written something asinine about waste disposal, I was starting to forget what unadulterated stupidity looked like in print.
Money aside, recycling gobbles up time and energy. In effect, the city has outsourced garbage sorting to households, turning everyone, from banker to housewife, into domestic trash workers.
Welcome to Canada, the classless society, where in 2009 major newspapers sneer at the implications of upper-class bankers and middle-class housewives being struck down to the level of trash -- pardon me, trash workers. Gee would never call another person trash. Heaven forfend.
Unlike me, most of them do it quite cheerfully, believing they are combatting a dire threat to the environment.

In reality, recycling is a bust for the planet. The materials we recycle – paper, plastic, glass, metal – are not running out. Most metals are in abundant supply. Plastics come from readily available chemicals. Glass comes from sand. Paper comes from trees, a renewable resource. In fact, most paper comes from trees grown specifically for pulp.
Ah, the abundance fallacy. Because human destruction of the biosphere isn't yet total, we should just go ahead and use it all up. But, to go down the list: The price of commodity metals are still at historic highs. (At $6,000 per short ton, the price of copper is higher than any time since the oil shocks, (PDF), excluding of course the last two years of economic frenzy. High prices, for those of you who neglected to take Econ 101 [1] are usually an indicator of relative scarcity, not abundance. But then, we're not privy to the subtleties that come from working at the Globe and Mail, who I'm told have a pretty substantial business section that could explain these things to their columnists.

Quickly, now: plastic manufacturers are leaving North America and moving overseas to places where natural gas actually is cheap and abundant. Glass is extremely energy-intensive to make, which is why the Beer Store and LCBO now recycle and reuse as much as they can -- it's cheaper for bottlers to recycle than use virgin stock.

Paper may be the exception to the general rule -- depending on your interpretation of the data, though you won't be surprised to learn that I side with those who argue that, on a life-cycle basis, recycling paper is better than merely landfilling it. But suppose my side is wrong, and it would actually be better for the planet to dump heavily bleached cellulose into holes in the ground by the kilotonne every year. Here we come to Marcus Gee's perennial complaint: that communities outside of Toronto are unwilling to act as our toilet.
All these materials are relatively harmless if buried in modern landfills equipped with clay foundations, impermeable plastic liners, drainage systems and gas-capturing technology. If there is a shortage of landfills near Toronto, it is only because governments refuse to show the courage needed to convince local NIMBYs to host one in their backyard.
I'm happy to criticize NIMBYism in some forms, but this is really strange. We just had a strike in Toronto which halted garbage collection, and people who live near public parks where temporary dumps were formed went apeshit. Setting aside whether I agree with them, you'd think Gee could at least acknowledge that nobody wants garbage in their backyard, not just yokel NIMBYs that he wants to caricature.

Meanwhile, recycling is an industry that increasingly is being handled in our backyard -- the compost plants that Toronto wants to build are being sited on municipal land, without the Province having to strong-arm anyone. And Gee spurns it.

Why, you'd think that Gee is actually just an irrational crank, with nothing of value to say on this matter. But that can't be right, because he's been given some of the most valuable real estate in Canada's print media to say basically whatever he wants. Surely they wouldn't give such a position to anyone, would they?

[1] I of course did not take Econ 101, as columnists like Marcus Gee used to explain to me during the earlier part of this decade when he was a cheerleader for globalization. So my high-prices = scarcity theory must be Communist gobbledygook.

UPDATE: Should have googled this earlier, but in his column Gee makes much of the $54 million price tag for Toronto's waste diversion plan. The cost of buying the Green Lane Landfill in 2007? $220 million. And that was just acquisition, not including the costs of actually dumping there.

But yeah, recycling is the waste of money.


Steve Muhlberger said...

Reason to read the Globe:

Reason to read Marcus Gee:

JHMB said...

@DW (standing ovation)
@Marcus pwned