Much Ado About…Recycling in NY Times

To recycle or not to recycle, that is the question.

Well, that is not exactly the question Shakespeare had Hamlet pose, but it is the question posed recently by John Tierney on the front page of the October 3, 2015 New York Times’ Sunday Review in his article, “The Reign of Recycling.”

Tierney presents arguments which propose that current recycling programs cost more than they are worth. For those around on June 30, 1996, this article has a similar theme to his first attack on recycling, “Recycling is Garbage” also published in the New York Times. Those who read his pieces will find Tierney to be a good writer, creatively comparing America and its recycling efforts in his first piece to the story of the pilgrim and muckraker in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. He builds a strong case. You can just imagine Tierney building an argument as a debate team member.

And perhaps that’s what he’s doing. In a 2001 profile about him written for The American Prospect by Chris Mooney, he was asked about his New York Times piece. Tierney replied, “I could write something about the good side of recycling … But everybody else writes that.”

His recent article has been refuted by many recycling advocates. Perhaps most useful is the fact-checking done by the Closed Loop Fund. This group found a “number of inaccurate statements and misrepresentations about the economic and environmental impact of the recycling industry.” The Closed Loop Fund Team then took a red pen and pointed out each one along with third-party, verifiable sources.

For a quick summary of the economic and environmental benefits of recycling, read the Waste Dive article, “Insiders’ View on the Economic Benefits of Recycling,” which was written by SWANA Executive Director and CEO David Biderman, along with representatives of Keep America Beautiful and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries.

Here are a sampling of additional posts we think are especially well-done:

“Here’s what John Tierney left out of his anti-recycling screed,” by Adam Minter

“Two decades later, New York Times takes another swipe at recycling,” by Dylan de Thomas for Resource Recycling

“Is recycling as awful as the New York Times claims? Not remotely,” by Ben Adler on

“He’s Back” By Athena Lee Bradley on the Northeast Recycling Council blog

The death of recycling is often pronounced, but those of us who work to educate about comprehensive solid waste management practices today know that solid waste requires a hierarchy of efforts for sustainable materials management (SMM). And that hierarchy includes all 3Rs: reducing, reusing and then recycling.

Photo credit: © | ilbusca

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