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Reblogged:For Your Amusement and Edification

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Some time ago, I opined that recycling -- at least as most people have thought of it since the 1970s -- is a waste of time.

And so it is amusing to note some surface similarities between a passage I wrote at the time, and one from a recent piece in the leftist U.K. Guardian. There is no cause to cry Plagiarism! and certainly less to say, "Great minds think alike."

In my piece, I wrote:

ritual.jpg
This ritual might be better than toting a blue can to the curb every week -- if it involved burning trash. (Image by Jimmy Salazar, via Unsplash, license.)
Let's be clear about what recycling is. Although you might think it was invented by hippies who, as Ayn Rand once put it, "would pollute any stream by stepping into it," recycling pre-dates China itself, and began the moment someone realized that it saved time, effort, and/or money to re-use an object or any of its raw materials. In fact, the practice was so economical that there was no need for scolds and government bureaucrats: People have made careers by buying, collecting and selling scrap metal, rags, and even human waste. Nevertheless, in the days of rag-pickers and night soil collectors, some things were recycled and some things were not -- because it was a waste of time, effort, or money. Tells, those large mounds arising after centuries of human habitation, attest to this in addition to accounting for many archaeological discoveries. But around the 1970s, hippies changed the goal of recycling from benefiting human life to preserving the natural world. Lest you think I quibble, consider how that affects even a simple choice: Toss out a cheap soft drink bottle -- or wash it and send it off to a recycling plant, regardless of whether it is quicker or cheaper to make a new one.
And here is a similar passage from the Guardian:
Recycling is as old as thrift. The Japanese were recycling paper in the 11th century; medieval blacksmiths made armour from scrap metal. During the second world war, scrap metal was made into tanks and women's nylons into parachutes. "The trouble started when, in the late 70s, we began trying to recycle household waste," says [Professor Roland] Geyer. This was contaminated with all sorts of undesirables: non-recyclable materials, food waste, oils and liquids that rot and spoil the bales.
Both of us acknowledge the ancient pedigree of recycling, its past thriftiness, and the fact that something went amiss in the 1970's. But to read the Guardian, you would think that recycling household waste was a new idea.

It was not.

Look in any old cookbook at some of the animal parts and leftovers people used to incorporate into their cooking and you'll see what human-centered recycling of household waste looks like. Recall also that, even back then, there were things even rag-pickers didn't recycle.

When food became really cheap due to the green revolution (the real revolution, concerning agriculture) people didn't have to keep eating slop, and it became as uneconomical to recycle certain food wastes as the packaging some of the food came in. 

But if you don't understand the difference between thrift and "saving" (some idealized version of) "nature" -- perhaps because you view thrift as a mere commandment rather than a life-promoting virtue -- then such a distinction will make no sense. Christian morality -- or its secularized leftist/Kantian offshoot -- will lead such a person to believe that recycling is a good thing regardless of whether it actually promotes human life. This is because both directly lead to a failure to understand the nature or practicality of virtue.

Contrary to popular opinion, there is no such thing as an action that is intrinsically good, such as the mindless ritual that recycling has become over the last fifty years.

-- CAV

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