Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thinking in Circles

"Here is the Earth", ran the T shirt slogan. "Don't spend it all at once". I've never been, or felt the need to become, a bearded, tree-hugging anorak so the passage of Earth Day today, actually celebrated in almost two hundred countries worldwide, usually fails to ripple my profligate, wasteful conscience. My father didn't recycle. He burned stuff  on a vast pyre at the bottom of the garden, creating a cloud of pollutants large enough to swamp Shropshire, returning hours later, satisfyingly begrimed, with a healthy odour of hard outdoor work about him. The closest he came to recycling was the maintenance of a compost heap. It has been said - with good reason - that the less educated don't recycle, either because they can't be bothered to put the soda can in the pretty green bin rather than the grubby brown one, or whatever, or they forget which is which because vandals have torn off the labels, or perhaps the different coloured bins cost money which they don't have. Vapid, shallow and irreflective? Possibly. Lacking in public spirit? Probably. It doesn't often cross people's minds that entropy always increases and there's a thermodynamic inevitability about recycled material that it's going to cost more than you think it does to retrieve the original material in usable form.  Electricity, generated from oil, gas or nuclear material is needed to manage and drive recycling processes and joules are expensive.
There's another agenda. Recycling of cross-species animal feeds accumulates what is rather grandly called 'biomagnifying toxins' in the food chain, as well as pathogens causing bizarre diseases like CJD and possibly the emergence of other toxic or infective organisms resistant to recycling chemistry.
As a teacher I am supposed to care about recycling. I wondered therefore, neglecting for a moment the small forest I annually sacrifice in print and photocopy, mostly filled with rubbish which students scrawl on, are the tools of my trade 'green'? Is it better to write with white chalk on a blackboard or to use dry-erase markers on a whiteboard, I wonder? A possible and quite persuasive argument can be found on this site. Interested persons can squander a few more joules by clicking on it.
In this country, recycling means dropping something on the floor for some poverty-stricken immigrant to sweep it up after you and put it in a bin, where squadrons more of his countrymen take it away and process it. Old Mr Cynical, or what....

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