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I was a meeting with Larry Page once, and he asked the group whether they had any data on if recycling was working. Does anyone have ecological data on net ecological impact?

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I can’t seem to find any. I did stumble on this (NYtimes via Wikipedia):

In a 1996 article in The New York TimesJohn Tierney claimed that government mandated recycling wastes more resources than it saves.[21] Some highlights from the article:

    • In cases where recycling truly does save resources, such as with large scraps of aluminium, this will be reflected in market prices, and voluntary recycling will take place. Thus, there is no need for the government to mandate it.
    • Tree farmers plant more trees than they cut down.
    • Government mandated recycling is more expensive than putting the garbage into landfills.
    • Some small towns with landfills are happy to import garbage from other cities and states because it provides jobs and tax revenue.
    • Today’s modern landfills are much cleaner and safer, and much less likely to leak and pollute than the landfills of the past.
    • Incinerators make more energy than recycling saves. Also, some things, such as glossy paper, can’t be recycled, and it is better to burn such materials for energy.
    • Regarding the claim that the U.S. is running out of landfill space, Tierney wrote, “A. Clark Wiseman, an economist at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington, has calculated that if Americans keep generating garbage at current rates for 1,000 years, and if all their garbage is put in a landfill 100 yards (91 m) deep, by the year 3000 this national garbage heap will fill a square piece of land 35 miles (56 km) on each side. This doesn’t seem a huge imposition in a country the size of America. The garbage would occupy only 5 percent of the area needed for the national array of solar panels proposed by environmentalists. The millennial landfill would fit on one-tenth of 1 percent of the range land now available for grazing in the continental United States. And if it still pains you to think of depriving posterity of that 35-mile (56 km) square, remember that the loss will be only temporary. Eventually, like previous landfills, the mounds of trash will be covered with grass and become a minuscule addition to the nation’s 150,000 square miles (390,000 km2) of parkland.”
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