Wednesday’s editorial gave an overly simplistic view of the RecycleBank incentive program (Bank on Recycling, 9/15/2010). Though the initiative will help students’ limited budgets, which is great news, the Daily also said that the program would “promote environmental friendliness.” That statement that isn’t necessarily true.
It is a bitter pill to swallow that in many cases, recycling an item does not make up for the environmental destruction caused by manufacturing it — especially when it comes to plastics. This is true because the bottles and other items we buy on a daily basis are almost always made of entirely virgin plastic. When we recycle them, they are not made into new plastic bottles. Instead, they are “downcycled” into lower-quality plastic products which are later put into landfills. In fact, curbside recycling programs often accept and throw away plastics that cannot even be recycled, in order to avoid confusion among consumers. Recycling is critical and can be very effective, but it’s not a perfect system.
Furthermore, since points are accumulated using a sensor in the bins, people will be tempted to recycle items that should be put in the trash (i.e. used napkins, paper towels and food waste). This is troublesome because spilled food can ruin paper products and make them no longer recyclable.
Finally, the RecycleBank program is likely to encourage overconsumption. Rewarding larger quantities of waste — even if that waste is recyclable — will only reinforce our obsession with convenience foods and disposable products. RecycleBank should be regarded with skepticism. It is, after all, a company looking to make money, not an objective authority teaching right from wrong.
There are advantages to the RecycleBank program if it teaches some students to use their recycling bins and helps them financially. However, we should always bear in mind that “reduce” and “reuse” come first for a reason.