Recycling is a waste of time
Saturday 27 October, 5.15pm until 6.00pm, Lecture Theatre 1 Provocation Lecture

With rubbish a major political issue, and threats from councils that residents might be fined if they do not sort their waste correctly, recycling has become a hot political issue. But, why bother to recycle? The benefits are far from indisputable. According to advocates of the new green orthodoxy, recycling is essential if we are to reduce pollution and alleviate global warming, but given its limited impact on CO2 emissions, it often seems as if the imperative to recycle has more to do with conspicuous ‘good citizenship’ than efficient waste management. Perhaps recycling is not only an inconvenient, but an unnecessary part of our daily routines.

Some have hailed the recycling industry of Mumbai as an economic model that we should all take notice of. Many inhabitants of the Indian city spend their time sorting dumped rubbish for recycling. But, how does this resource efficiency match up to our standards of human efficiency? Might a certain amount of wasted material be a price worth paying for the freedom to spend time on other things?


Thomas Deichmann
editor, NovoArgumente; author, Die Steinzeit steckt uns in den Knochen: gesundheit als erbe der evolution
Julie Hill
former director and associate, Green Alliance; author, A Zero Waste UK
Rob Lyons
science and technology director, Institute of Ideas; convenor, IoI Economy Forum
Julia Hailes MBE
sustainability consultant; author, The New Green Consumer Guide
Suzy Dean
freelance writer; blogger, Free Society

 Produced by

Suzy Dean freelance writer; blogger, Free Society

Recycling: Reducing waste or waste of time?, Martin Earnshaw

 Recommended readings

Britain could be a rubbish-free society says ground-breaking study
Waste, reports Greenpeace, is simply a resource that has gone unrecognised as such
staff writer, Greenpeace UK, 17 March 2002

The truth about recycling
As technologies and materials allow greater possibilities for recycling, perhaps waste can be cast as a design flaw
staff writer, Economist, 6 June 2007

The things we throw away
‘Whoever you speak to, in whichever corner of the waste industry, you are liable to come away with the impression that soft utopianism has taken the place of militant politics in contemporary Britain’
Andrew O'Hagan, London Review of Books, 23 May 2007

recommended by spiked

Bin these authoritarian policies
Rob Lyons, 12 July 2006

A waste of time
Rob Lyons, 1 April 2004

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