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Recycling Reconsidered

Recycling Reconsidered: The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States

Samantha MacBride
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Recycling Reconsidered
    Book Description:

    Recycling is widely celebrated as an environmental success story. The accomplishments of the recycling movement can be seen in municipal practice, a thriving private recycling industry, and widespread public support and participation. In the United States, more people recycle than vote. But, as Samantha MacBride points out in this book, the goals of recycling -- saving the earth (and trees), conserving resources, and greening the economy -- are still far from being realized. The vast majority of solid wastes are still burned or buried. MacBride argues that, since the emergence of the recycling movement in 1970, manufacturers of products that end up in waste have successfully prevented the implementation of more onerous, yet far more effective, forms of sustainable waste policy. Recycling as we know it today generates the illusion of progress while allowing industry to maintain the status quo and place responsibility on consumers and local government.MacBride offers a series of case studies in recycling that pose provocative questions about whether the current ways we deal with waste are really the best ways to bring about real sustainability and environmental justice. She does not aim to debunk or discourage recycling but to help us think beyond recycling as it is today.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-29855-1
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acronyms and Abbreviations
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)

    We are at an important moment in natural and social history. State action and widespread public concern, organized at scales ranging from local to global, are rapidly mounting to confront material burdens of industrial production and mass consumption that have accumulated over past centuries. The unintended consequences of the overuse of nature’s resources and services are increasingly and violently forcing their way into people’s lives. Action and concern over environmental problems take many forms, ranging from international conventions (United Nations 2009) to the mainstreaming of “green” calculus in the business model (Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins 1999; Gunther 2006) to struggles...

  6. 1 Rags and Bottles
    (pp. 23-48)

    In 2002, I toured a glass-beneficiation facility, a plant whose sole purpose was to ready recycled glass to make new bottles, fiberglass, and high-end sand substitute. Beneficiation facilities are a second stop after glass containers go through a first round of sorting at a materials recovery facility (abbreviated as MRF and called a “murf” in the recycling business). Bottles and jars that residents set out with their cans, plastics, and other recyclables rarely arrive at materials recovery facilities intact, but even those that do are sure to get broken as they proceed. As mixed recyclables move along a conveyor belt,...

  7. 2 Curbside Recycling Collection
    (pp. 49-86)

    In the previous chapter, I showed that the recycling movement was willing to accept uncritically the notion that glass should join metal and paper as materials worth collecting for recycling in cities. This acceptance entailed their acknowledgment of a certain amount of leadership by the glass container industry, which stepped into a new role to fill that of the nonexistent scrap-glass industry. Today, environmentalists and recycling managers are still struggling with the developments that followed from this confluence of events in the early 1970s. In 2001, Roger Guttentag, a recycling consultant and columnist forResource Recyclingmagazine, addressed a post...

  8. 3 Tonnage and Toxicity: The Nonissue of Nonhazardous Industrial Waste
    (pp. 87-124)

    I have spent my adult life studying and working in one way or another with garbage. As a result, I have spent a great deal of time looking at data on waste quantities and composition—how much municipal solid waste is produced in a city, state, or country; what materials make up different waste flows; how much is disposed and how much goes to recycling, composting, or another alternative. The U.S. EPA publishes biennial data on this subject for the United States as a whole, detailing the composition of municipal solid waste by material as well as by product type....

  9. 4 Scale and Sufficiency: Zero Waste and the Quest for Environmental Justice
    (pp. 125-172)

    In 2008, U.S. cities sent about 33 percent of their urban discards off to be made something new rather than dumping them (U.S. EPA 2009b; see also appendix I). In total, almost 83 million tons of material were routed back into the economy. This outcome is weighty. It may be true that despite thirty years of serious, if not concerted, efforts to cultivate methods of municipal diversion by government, corporate, and civil-society sectors, two-thirds of municipal solid waste still goes to disposal. It may also be true that municipal solid waste tonnages in total are far, far smaller than tonnages...

  10. 5 Extended Plastics Responsibility: Producers as Reluctant Stewards
    (pp. 173-216)

    In 2009, Jill Fehrenbacher, a Brown-educated architect who writes a blog on environmental design called “Green Rant,” fumed to her readership about her recent discovery that New York City’s curbside recycling program limited the plastics it accepted for recycling to bottles and jugs only. Why, she asked, couldn’t concerned citizens put other types of plastic packaging such as margarine tubs, deli containers, and salad trays out for curbside collection—especially when they bear the same number 1 or number 2 recycling codes that most plastic bottles and jugs do? Fehrenbacher’s comments were an articulation of the confusion, frustration, and anger...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 217-240)

    The information I have presented in this book leads me to propose some specific changes in U.S. solid-waste policy and, far more important, to encourage an opening up of discourse and practice within those aspects of the environmental movement that focus on garbage, recycling, and the excesses of consumption. First, I argue for a strong federal role in data gathering and dissemination, legislation of mandatory extended producer responsibility for what I call “modern materials” (e-waste, household hazardous waste, and most if not all plastic wastes), and leadership in what Maureen Smith (1997) defines as environmentally grounded sectoral analysis, coordinated as...

  12. Appendix I: Summary of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Data on Solid-Waste Generation, Disposal, and Recycling in the United States
    (pp. 241-242)
  13. Appendix II: Summary of Textile and Glass Disposal and Recycling in the United States and New York City
    (pp. 243-244)
  14. Appendix III: Changes in Quantity and Composition of Municipal Solid Waste over Time
    (pp. 245-248)
  15. Appendix IV: Fractions of Municipal Solid Waste Suitable for Reuse Using a Model of Repair, Refurbishment, and Retailing
    (pp. 249-252)
  16. Appendix V: Details on Various Quantities of Different Plastics in Municipal Solid Waste
    (pp. 253-256)
  17. Appendix VI: Fractions of Municipal Solid Waste Referred to in the Conclusion
    (pp. 257-258)
  18. Notes
    (pp. 259-262)
  19. References
    (pp. 263-290)
  20. Index
    (pp. 291-304)
  21. Series List
    (pp. 305-308)