Monday, July 13, 2009

Uneasy Being Green

Here is an op-ed article I wrote back in Febuary, entitled: "Uneasy being green."

Go Green! Save the Planet! [Insert your favorite eco-cliché of choice.] For the past few years these slogans have become the mantra for environmentally conscious consumers. Many companies, in an effort to remain au courant have followed suit, producing a number of all-singing, all-dancing "green" products.

The release of Al Gore's doomsday prophecy An Inconvenient Truth marked a new era of fervent environmentalism, a "second coming", if you will.

The Monkey Wrench Gang, once a favorite novel of 1970's Green Anarchists has been replaced by the more kid-friendly and considerably less anti-establishment, The Green Book, reusable totes are now a third option to add to the paper or plastic category, and nearly every clothing company has proudly printed t-shirts with an array of crying globes, screaming trees and the infamous recycling logo, illustrating the concepts of "reduce, reuse and recycle."

As expected, MDC has hopped on the bio-diesel gravy train.

Last September, College President Eduardo Padron announced a college-wide waste reduction program, made in partnership with the Southeastern Recycling Corporation. Southeastern and MDC negotiated a zero-cost, one year contract. Southeastern made suggestions to each campus as to the number of bins needed according to campus size and population. The large bins were provided free of charge, but the college still has to shell out for the smaller, blue bins in offices and the collection of the materials.

The contract will be revisited in August to determine whether the college will receive any revenues from the program. The college is currently hoping to break even.

According to Judy Schmelzer, Dean of Administration for Wolfson Campus, the recycling initiative is currently not appearing profitable. She suggests that it may be due to the economic recession.

College administrators and directors for Southeastern were supposed to hold a meeting after the first of this year to discuss potential ramifications of the recycling contract. To date, the meeting has not yet been held.

It is unclear whether the self-appointed yeomen in charge of the program will reject the contract in August if it is shown that a cost-benefit analysis of the new recycling initiative reveals an incurred deficit.

Recycling is often incorrectly regarded as an environmental panacea; this is far from the truth.

Let's put aside the naïve assumption that these new efforts towards saving the planet have nothing to do with a company's natural predilection towards profit and focus on specific, little-known facts about recycling.


Most of the plastic containers produced are non-recyclable. A common misconception is that the arrows printed on the bottle indicate recyclability; in actuality, the arrows are meaningless. Currently, plastic products are collected, but not generally recycled.


Aluminum is the one material that is unequivocally beneficial to recycle. Even recycling critics will agree that it is more efficient to recycle aluminum than it is to extract more of it from the earth.


The vast majority of the paper we consume is derived from forests that are specifically grown for this paper. These trees, regardless of their "farmed" status, still produce an important resource: oxygen. If paper production is vastly decreased, the acres of land reserved for these pulp forests will become obsolete, causing land owners to cut the trees down and build towards a more profitable venture, usually made of concrete. Our demand for paper thus increases the supply of trees.

Separating recyclables

A lot of fuss is made over separating materials into their designated receptacles. The truth is that, at least in Miami-Dade County, trash and recyclable goods go to the same center and are all mixed together – employees at the individual locations sort through the rubbish themselves, dividing it into separate plastic, aluminum and paper piles for later processing.

The question of profit

Where does the money paid to the recycling companies go? Is it used towards advocacy campaigns, advertising the benefits of the practice? Does it go towards research for the development of new recycling procedures? We are unsure what hands the money fall in. Could the profit from the separate bins even go towards paying the employees that will eventually sort through the trash?

Landfill Space

The National Solid Wastes Management Association (NSWMA) estimates that the existing landfills in the United States have about 20 years of disposal capacity left. Some states have less than five years of capacity remaining, and there are NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) issues with the creation of new landfills, but jurisdictions wiling to build landfills still exist. There are some landfills that make use of the methane gas released from decaying waste, using it for energy to power neighboring towns or cities. Granted, this may not be as "clean" or "renewable" as some would wish for, but nevertheless, quixotic hopes and non-solutions should be replaced with practical answers.

Ask yourselves: With the college already struggling economically: uncomfortable students piling up in cramped classrooms, parking spots becoming ever more elusive, and clubs raising nearly all of their travel funds; should we really have to back a hip program with dubious benefits that may actually result in a loss of money?

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