Letter: Who is recycling really helping?

Published 7:44 pm Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The word of the day is nostrum — a special means or device for accomplishing something, also a quack medicine.

Such devices are rarely effective, but delay initiation of effective action. Humans are frequently relieved when presented with a nostrum that temporarily excuses them of further responsibility.

Unfortunately, I find Mr. Rudolf’s letter in the Owatonna Peoples Press Aug. 11 edition a temperate plea for stewardship of the planet and conservation a case in point. I also fear that Steele County’s sponsorship of the three Rs — reduce, reuse, recycle — is another misguided scheme with the same general objective. I hope someone with better information can prove me wrong.

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Under current market conditions, I suspect that only tin and aluminum can be recycled for profit. Because these materials must be reduced to molten form — driving off any contaminants before reuse — no secondary processing is required. The rest of our trash is so commingled and contaminated with pollutants that expensive processing is necessary before reuse. Transport and secondary processing causes financial and ecological damage, probably in excess of any benefits. Do we wind up paying someone to take the stuff off our hands, or just returning it to the landfill anyway?

The rote of our waste problem and our resource consumption problem in an economic system that profits from converting the planet’s resources into marketable form as rapidly as possible. Unable to defer their profits, the kings and queens of commerce encourage us to shift tomorrow’s choices to today’s demand with the use of plastic. In our remarkable world of climate change denial and economic overdrive, environmentalists and conservationists can rock the boat with nostrums all they want to as long as plutocrats are allowed to stay the course.

We need to cure the damages left by decades of conspicuous consumption. For starters, economic growth must be restricted to the rate of population growth by whatever means necessary.

John E. Gibson