Recycling Reconsidered: The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States

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MIT Press, Dec 9, 2011 - Political Science - 320 pages
How the success and popularity of recycling has diverted attention from the steep environmental costs of manufacturing the goods we consume and discard.

Recycling is widely celebrated as an environmental success story. The accomplishments of the recycling movement can be seen in municipal practice, a thriving private recycling industry, and widespread public support and participation. In the United States, more people recycle than vote. But, as Samantha MacBride points out in this book, the goals of recycling—saving the earth (and trees), conserving resources, and greening the economy—are still far from being realized. The vast majority of solid wastes are still burned or buried. MacBride argues that, since the emergence of the recycling movement in 1970, manufacturers of products that end up in waste have successfully prevented the implementation of more onerous, yet far more effective, forms of sustainable waste policy. Recycling as we know it today generates the illusion of progress while allowing industry to maintain the status quo and place responsibility on consumers and local government.

MacBride offers a series of case studies in recycling that pose provocative questions about whether the current ways we deal with waste are really the best ways to bring about real sustainability and environmental justice. She does not aim to debunk or discourage recycling but to help us think beyond recycling as it is today.


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This is a wonderful book. MacBride connects the dots between Big Beverage and municipal recycling. It is a long-overdue disclosure of the unholy origins of our familiar curbside recycling programs. MacBride has got it all here. The challenge is that so many environmentalists are defending the system, even as they nervously acknowledge its shortcomings, instead of demanding something better. 


Chapter 1 Rags and Bottles
Chapter 2 Curbside Recycling Collection
The Nonissue of Nonhazardous Industrial Waste
Zero Waste and the Quest for Environmental Justice
Producers as Reluctant Stewards
Summary of US Environmental Protection Agency Data on SolidWaste Generation Disposal and Recycling in the United States
Changes in Quantity and Composition of Municipal Solid Waste over Time
Fractions of Municipal Solid Waste Suitable for Reuse Using a Model of Repair Refurbishment and Retailing
Details on Various Quantities of Different Plastics in Municipal Solid Waste
Fractions of Municipal Solid Waste Referred to in the Conclusion
Urban and Industrial Environments

Summary of Textile and Glass Disposal and Recycling in the United States and New York City

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About the author (2011)

Samantha MacBride teaches at Columbia University's School of Public and International Affairs and is a professional in local waste governance.

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