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From: Fred Friedman (FRIEDMAN.FRED@EPA.GOV)
Date: Thu May 13 1999 - 09:15:53 EDT


Date: Thu, 13 May 1999 09:15:53 -0400 (EDT)
From: FRIEDMAN.FRED@EPA.GOV (Fred Friedman)
Subject: Re: Recycling - overconsumption (Angus Tye)

May 13, 1999

Dear Angus Tye,

You are right: taken by itself, recycling does nothing to stop overconsumption! In fact, it may further promote it. If your idea of a good life is a rich material life - and that must be acknowledged to be the case for everyone who has been an immigrant, everyone who has been poor, everyone who has avoided a Ghandian level of perfection, as well as the majority of the middle classes of the world - then this is a world-wide social phenomenon. Is there anything inherently wrong with it? I would say, no. Yes, I have heard the rhetoric about consumer society for 40 years. It is still only rhetoric which does not get at the economic underpinnings of striving, the political nature of life under any economic system, nor does it speak to what people ostensibly want. Unless you can convince everyone that they are deluded - which of course, you cannot - then overconsumption wwill continue until scarcity of resources makes that it impossible. However, I would argue that that will never happen, because substitute
s, even imperfect ones, can always be found using technology.
So, what are the failings of the recycling system?
a. that only in a few plans and active programs is it teamed with waste reduction, reuse, and procurement of recycled content products.
b. that it tries to do too much. For example, what is the benefit of recycling mercury into new products? Yet, that is at present, the recommended practice over incineration or landfilling, as it ought to be for e.g. batteries, fluorescent bulbs, hospital equipment, thermometers.
c. markets, markets, markets.
d. that the lay public sees recycling as a panacea.
e. that the economics of landfilling sometimes make other forms of waste disposal more economically feasible.
f. that it breeds fanaticism

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