Sunday, 7 May 2006


I like Penn & Teller's "Bullshit!" show - for the most part it's either entertaining or informative, and often both.
There was one episode that I found very surprising, as far as it went. In it, Penn & Teller argued that recycling wasn't all it was cracked up to be, and in many cases waste was better off going into landfill. Their arguments came from several directions, and the two that are relevant here are:
* The process of recycling involves chemicals that are damaging to the environment.
* Recycling is heavily subsidised by government: it is not economical to recycle anything except aluminium, so that money would be better put towards other (say, environmental) uses.

Anyway, while I was in New Zealand I had a chance to talk to my Uncle Robbie, who works as an accountant for Terranova, a private recycling company in Christchurch.
At least in Christchurch, it is economical to recycle all the household materials they collect - paper, plastic, glass, metals. The metals are the most profitable, but they make some profit on them all. In fact, the company is moving to become entirely independent of the local council - there's enough profit to make recycling worthwhile without any subsidies.
According to Robbie, it requires the right infrastructure. If it's done the wrong way - if brown glass contaminates green, for example - the materials become worthless. Apparently Christchurch has the right infrastructure, one of the best in the world. Robbie sounded very proud of his work with Terranova, and rightly so I think. It was very heartening to hear.

That still leaves Penn & Teller's claim that recycling produces chemical wastes that are damaging to the environment, but on the balance of things I think I disagree with them: recycling is a good thing.

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