Does it make sense to recycle? The short answer is: Yes.
True, some critics wonder whether mandatory programs are a net benefit, since they can require more trucks consuming energy and belching carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
"You don't want a large truck carrying around just a few bottles," concedes Matthew Hale, director of EPA's [Environmental Protection Agency] Office of Solid Waste. But, he notes, most cities are getting better at reducing the environmental costs of recycling. (They're also working to reduce the economic costs. Many recycling programs still cost more to run than they bring in when they sell the recyclable materials back to manufacturers.)
Consider the true cost of a product over its entire life—from harvesting the raw materials to creating, consuming, and disposing of it—and the scale tips dramatically in recycling's favor. Every shrink-wrapped toy or tool or medical device we buy bears the stamp of its energy-intensive history: mountains of ore that have been mined (bauxite, say, for aluminum cans), coal plants and oil refineries, rail-cars, assembly lines. A product's true cost includes greenhouse gases emitted in its creation as well as use, and pollutants that cause acid rain, smog, and fouled waterways.
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