In response to the recently “celebrated” America Recycles Day, the Property and Environment Research Center promoted its 2010 publication, “Recycling Myths Revisited.” The report’s author, Daniel K. Benjamin, does a good job of reporting the history of trash collection and busting a variety of myths about recycling—such as that it always saves resources and improves the “environment.”
But recycling is not merely impractical in many cases, as Benjamin demonstrates, it is often immoral. Specifically, recycling is immoral whenever it involves a personal sacrifice—that is, whenever the time and resources spent recycling exceed the benefits.
Obviously in many contexts recycling can generate a net gain, and so it is not sacrificial. For example, my wife and I recycle (i.e., reuse) plastic grocery bags as trash bags and disposable totes. Some people recycle professionally by hauling junked but valuable metals to recycling centers, where they are reused at less cost than producing new metals would entail. In such cases, recycling is a beneficial and perfectly moral activity.
But whenever the costs of recycling exceed the gains—including reasonable compensation for one’s time—the moral thing to do is to throw the object in the trash and get on with living.
Every person’s most valuable resource is his own time—and it is a severely limited resource. Your life is composed of the moments you spend living. If you value your life, then wasting a portion of it to recycle worthless garbage is immoral—and it should be recognized as such.