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Scott Reeder

Well, last month, I joined the nation’s most popular religion.

 The faith’s high priest had decreed that I must convert or suffer the consequences.

The faith? Recycling. The priest? My garbageman.

The garbageman told me if I don’t reduce the amount of trash my family disposes of each week, he’s going to up my bill.

So, I converted and diverted. Some of my garbage ended up in the recycling bin.

Yes, I can hear the collective shouts: "Hallelujah! The boy has seen the light!"

Ever since my fifth-grade science class at Steele Middle School in Galesburg, I’ve been asked to embrace the Feel Good Trinity: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

Like many religious beliefs, it sounds better in theory than in practice.

I’m OK with the reduce and the reuse. But recycling? Not so much.

I know, you think I’ve spoken heresy.

I’m not promoting waste.

After all, when I shop at the grocery store, I bring along canvas bags because it just makes sense to use less as a society. Plus, my local grocer discounts my tab when I bring my own sacks.

If you walk into my workshop, you’ll see plenty of coffee cans and jelly jars holding nails and bolts. Not to mention, I’ve found nothing is better to dust a shelf or shine shoes than an old pair of boxer shorts.

And when I was a bachelor, I embraced my inner Redneck and had a cabinet full of matching china: Cool Whip containers.

So, it’s not as though I’m against repurposing items to save money and throw away less.

In fact, growing up, my family built several large hog barns out of discarded steel that we salvaged from the local scrap yard.

So, recycling in itself is not a bad thing.

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But my adherence to the concept ends at the curb.

Folks who engage in the ritual of sorting their paper, plastic, metal and glass and placing them on a curbside altar are doing so on an act of faith.

An afterlife supposedly awaits those soup cans, milk jugs and newspapers.

But don’t be so sure.

A 2010 Columbia University study found that just 16.5 percent of the plastic collected by the New York Department of Sanitation was “recyclable.”

And things have gotten worse since then.

Last year, China, believed to be the largest buyer of U.S. recyclables, put the kibosh on the imports. This has meant even more of what we put in the recycling pile ends up in the landfill with the rest of our garbage.

“I think there should be a lot less dogma in recycling and a lot more economics,” Larry Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, told me this week.

To which I can only say, “Preach on, Brother Larry.”

“When you divorce anything from the underlying economics, you can easily head down a rabbit trail that’s a dead end or makes no sense. So, if you approach recycling that way -- which a lot of people do -- there’s little concern over how much it costs,” Reed said.

Cost is the key word. Like any activity or service, recycling is an economic activity. But benefits of recycling have been questionable for some time. And the market for recyclables is drying up.

We should be asking ourselves how much it costs for a second truck to visit our curb each week. After all, it burns fuel and is manned by workers who might be used more productively elsewhere.

Does the societal benefit of recycling outweigh its incredible costs?

It would appear not.

But don’t tell the members of the Environmental Hallelujah Chorus.

After all, have proven sanctimony is a renewable resource.

Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist and a freelance reporter. ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.

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