Brian Kekich doesn't know anything about recycling

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Brian Kekich Doesn't Know Anything About Recycling


This posting is dedicated to exposing that Brian Kekich doesn't know a thing about recycling. Below is a letter to the editor written by Brian which was published by the Daily Trojan on October 13th. Following is my response which shows he has no clue what's he's talking about.

The Daily Trojan gave the following response when I tried to submit this piece to the letters to the editor section:

"As I mentioned earlier, as members of the press, we write editorials knowing that the public will respond and we write ready to take the comments they throw at us. Members of the public make no such commitment and don't deserve that kind of scrutiny." - Sara Libby, Editor in Chief - Daily Trojan

Well, I believe Mike does deserve scrutiny, hence I have published the piece here.

Please post comments if you have more proof!

Recycling wasteful

If walking down Trousdale on Tuesday you saw the more than 1,700 plastic bottles strung up that had been thrown away the week before in Commons, you might have been appalled, amazed that so many people could care so little about the environment. In truth, with the exception of aluminum cans, "recycling may be the most wasteful activity in modern America, waste of time and money, a waste of human and natural resources."

You might have noticed the quotation marks, it's because I quote The New York Times. Recycling costs more than three times as much than taking garbage to a landfill and is only allowed to persist because of government subsidies to the tune of $8 billion per year. Even if those plastic bottles had been recycled, they couldn't be used to make new plastic bottles. Instead, they would be ground up and used to make such useful products as shoelaces, flooring, and park benches. Still, better versions of these products can be made for less money using virgin materials.

What about landfills? Do we want to put all that garbage into the earth? Even the EPA recognizes that the risks from modern landfills are virtually non-existent. We're not running out of landfill space either, and the methane produced from decomposing garbage in a landfill is used to power homes. Recycling can, in some instances, be bad for the environment because it is a manufacturing process. Paper is picked up by a second truck, not the one that was already in your neighborhood, and brought to a processing center, which uses energy and creates real polluting smoke. The paper is brought to another plant where it is de-inked and bleached, which produces a chemical sludge that has to go somewhere. The pulp is then processed into paper again on equipment, which creates more smoke. Paper is made from virgin materials grown specifically for making paper just like potatoes are grown for making delicious French fries.

Deforestation is not the result of a lack of recycling but in most cases is due to lack of observation of private property rights or indigenous people logging to create room for farmland so they don't starve. The desire to use natural resources drives people to create more. That's why we keep growing potatoes and trees.

But we're going to run out of materials, right? Before that happened, recycling would cost and pollute less than using virgin materials, and thanks to a lovely free market, would happen without subsidies.

Even so, we're using less material than ever. Innovation has produced stronger steel for buildings, stronger thinner packaging, - those who think there is too much packaging should know that intensive use of packaging yields less breakage and accordingly less total waste - and available stocks of non-renewable materials are growing despite their use. The bottom line: recycling (except aluminum cans) is a waste, a waste of money, a waste of resources and a waste of your time and effort.

Brian Kekich
cinema television critical studies

Recyling is Not Wasteful

I am writing in response to an opinion piece written by Brian Kekich titled “Recycling Wasteful.” At first glance I was shocked by the information given in this persuasive piece of writing which I mistakenly took to be hard-nosed investigative journalism. It was not until I researched Mr. Kekich’s points, however, that I realized there are few facts in his entire piece and the sole reason I am writing is to correct the misinformation that has been presented to your readers as such.

I read the article from which Mr. Kekich gleaned the majority of his information. It is titled “Recycling is Garbage” and was written by John Tierney and published June 30th 1996. This was nearly 10 years ago and half a lifetime away for most of your readers. To put the financial arguments made in his article into perspective, a barrel of petroleum, the raw material for plastics, was $21.20 in June of 1996. Comparatively, the price of a barrel of oil in August 2005, before the current Katrina-induced gas spike, was more than $66.

I would like to begin by saying Mr. Kekich’s assertion that recycling is not supported under a free market system is entirely false. Though the recycling industry in the United States may be subsidized, the oil and logging industries are far more heavily subsidized which is why virgin materials are more competitive than recycled raw materials. If the “lovely free market” were truly an even playing field, recycling would be the economical choice as well as the environmental one. The same would be true for renewable energy.

Following is a point-by-point presentation of the facts that correspond to the misinformation presented by Mr. Kekich in his piece.

Recycled bottles can be made into new bottles. In fact, through new processes, recycled PET resin can be transformed to Q1 bottle grade PET resin and even less advanced recycling systems can create PET resin that can be blended with virgin resin to make new bottles that conform to health standards for consumer packaging.

Methane recovery is not a simple answer. Of over 1,000 landfills recognized as suitable for the methane recovery program, only 375 have been built with another 25 in construction stages. Each year that the more than 600 remaining candidate landfills are uncapped, 1.5 MW of potential energy is emitted into the atmosphere in the form of methane gas. Capping these landfills would be the equivalent of planting over 20 million acres of forest, or removing the emissions from over 14.6 million cars on the road, or powering over 1 million homes per year. In 2002 the EPA recognized 1,767 landfills in the United States, leaving nearly 750 landfills that do not meet the qualifications for methane recovery and will continue to emit methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

It’s true that leakages from modern landfills aren’t really a concern for us. New landfills are designed to last for many years without leaching pollutants into our groundwater. It’s our kids and our grandkids’ groundwater we are polluting.

The US Department of Energy reported that paper recycling offers an energy savings of 20% over making paper with virgin materials. A number of chlorine-free recycled paper products are currently available and one can actually buy 100% post consumer chlorine-free printer paper at Office Depot. While it is true that recycled paper produces more sludge than virgin paper, created through the de-inking process, recycled paper requires fewer chemicals and also produces fewer overall pollutants.

Paper does not always come from second-generation pulp plantations. For instance, in 1999 only 13.4 percent of fiber for Asia Pulp and Paper Company was produced from second generation plantations – the rest was from virgin Indonesian forests. Even when these plantations are used, they are typically monocultures of evenly spaced trees that alter water budgets, lead to erosion, often require fertilizer, and are more susceptible to pests.

Though subsistence agricultural is a major cause of deforestation, Mr. Kekich fails to mention that much of this has a lot to do with national and international influences. For example, nearly two thirds of deforestation in Central America can be attributed to a skyrocket in demand for cheap beef in the US, and increased demand for soybeans for cattle feed in the European Union has led to record deforestation in the Amazon in recent years. Also, the BBC reported that paper consumption is, in fact, a major cause of deforestation. Paper represents one-fifth of all wood consumption. Coincidentally, the United States is the largest consumer of paper and 39% of all landfill waste is paper.

The question is not whether recycling is positive or negative. When I saw the 1700 bottles Environment First collected on Trousdale, I was more disturbed by the fact that so much is consumed than the fact that so little is recycled. I want to remind everyone that the first “R” is for Reduce, the second for Reuse, and the third for Recycle.

Finally, what if we changed the way we made things in the first place so that we would not have to worry about recycling or landfills at all? For instance, a brand of spring water named Biota is available in new plant-based plastic bottles made from potato starch. These bottles have the same look, feel, and functionality of plastic; but they can be composted and turned into fertilizer once the first phase of their useful life is complete. Apparently potatoes are grown for more than just French fries after all.

Sean Carney
Environmental Studies, Business Emphasis