Mr. Dumke,

In response to your alarming article on a relatively sensitive subject [“The Awful Truth About Recycling in Chicago,” July 21]: government, from here in Chicago to the federal level, tries to bolster their accomplishments in protecting the environment by jumping to conclusions about the nature of the problem and enforce mandatory recycling programs that have to be subsidized when they, especially in this city, don’t even work.

Perhaps John Tierney’s article from the New York Times entitled “Recycling Is Garbage” is taboo due to the overwhelming amount of public outcry, but continuing the “garbage crisis” hysteria only makes it worse. I would just like for the media to inform the public about the misconceptions of the fundamental energy and cost savings of recycling.

The most convincing argument I’ve heard is that if recycling paper, plastic, and glass is productive by saving energy and resources, then why is it that garbage pickers on the streets only pick out the aluminum cans? It would make sense if it is true that it is the only common commodity that actually does save energy and resources by recycling instead of creating from scratch.

In an article from it mentions a logical alternative to the issue: “Another way to cut down on waste would be to nix the flat-fee system for waste disposal most cities currently employ and begin charging consumers per pound–sometimes called a ‘pay-as-you-throw’ system. The idea is that if consumers know they’ll be charged for waste by the pound, they’ll be more careful in selecting how their goods are packaged, they’ll look to reuse reusable goods, and, where beneficial, yes, they’ll be more likely to recycle.” (

If you think about it, it isn’t really a foreign idea. You pay for your natural gas per therm, you pay for your electricity per kilowatt hour, you pay for your phone oftentimes per minute, and you pay for gas by the gallon for your car. The only thing is that the public will feel like the government will be taking advantage of them more with the pay-as-you-throw system and that the recycling program, since it gets hidden in taxes, seems like the government is going out of their way to help the environment at their own expense. They just need to be informed.



Mick Dumke replies:

Tierney’s article, which concluded that recycling used more resources than it saved, was a well-reported, provocative piece of journalism–but it was published ten years ago. The economics of recycling couldn’t be more different now. Commodities are in such high demand on international markets that recyclers can’t get their hands on enough of them, and the cost of virgin materials has climbed. Moreover, Tierney never took into account the long-term economic costs of landfilling. Burying recyclable commodities has never made much sense environmentally, and these days it certainly doesn’t make any sense economically.