Mother Earth Living

Just Ask: Recycling Myths and the Benefits of Recycling

Grist Magazine's resident expert Umbra Fisk answers your environmental questions.
By Umbra Fisk
January/February 2005
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Q: My friend has the notion that recycling programs lose money. I can imagine situations where that could be the case, but in most cities there seems to be plenty of material being recycled to justify the collection infrastructure. Surely there are markets for more recycled content than we currently produce. Why does the myth persist that recycling doesn’t make sense? And are there items that don’t pay for themselves?

Mike, Lexington, Kentucky

Find out what Umbra has to say about this recycling myth. 

Q: Some time ago, the public radio program This American Life, was about recycling. Host Ira Glass reported, “Experts agree that we have plenty of landfill space for the foreseeable future.” He proposed that recycling therefore did little more than make us feel good.

Glass pointed out that recycling paper costs less than using raw materials such as trees, but that was not true of other recyclables such as glass. Besides, he said, we are in no danger of running out of sand. He never mentioned rubber, metals, or that demon of all “disposables,” plastic. Nor did he mention the jobs created by the industry or the longterm benefits of the earth-stewardship mindset that recycling fosters.

What do you say to the idea that recycling is of little real benefit to the world?

Nancy, Cedar Bluffs, Nebraska

Find out what Umbra has to say about the benefits of recycling. 

UMBRA FISK dispenses advice on all things green for Grist Magazine (, an online publication that tackles environmental topics with irreverence, intelligence, and a fresh perspective. To submit a question or subscribe to Grist’s free email service, visit

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