Begrudgingly, I’m Recycling

Nuance Alert: If you see the world in clear cases of right and wrong, black and white, us and them, you’re going to be confused by what you read next.

I color myself fully for the environment. Climate change is real, human impacts are pushing the global environment out of balance, and we should absolutely be doing something about it.

But In Minot, ND, in 2023, citywide municipal recycling is NOT one of those things that will help the environment. 

If you don’t recall, I was the City Council member who proposed removing recycling from the 2018 budget. My actions (with Council’s support) stopped the program for a full five years. I’d do it again. And if you’re curious about my thinking then, you can read about it here; I wasn’t shy about sharing why. 

Now the ship has sailed. We’ve adopted the program. But for me, Minot’s recycling still feels a lot like buying a ticket on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg. We know the ship will never get us to our destination. We bought a ticket and climbed on anyway.

Here’s the nuance. I believe in recycling. You should do it; we shouldn’t. 

Municipal recycling as a whole and especially in Minot is a giant act of collective virtue signaling. It makes us feel good when we flip that lid and toss in our Amazon leftovers, but it does nothing for the environment. The room it makes in our landfill is insignificant. And in exchange for our meaningless act? We get to pay more. 

See, in the global recycling pond we are such a small fry; we don’t matter. The numbers we contribute to the whole make us wholly inconsequential. But when can a small fry make a difference? The answer is when it goes a different direction.

By the way, do you know where the idea of municipal recycling came from? In one of the greatest Scooby Doo reveals ever — it was the plastics industry all along. Yep, they were the ones that sold us on subsidizing their profits by getting us to pick up the waste they create. Because, “If the public thinks that recycling is working, then they are not going to be as concerned about the environment.”

I didn’t say that. Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry said it. That organization became the Plastics Industry Association and is today one of the most powerful plastics lobbying groups in the world. They had the public pegged as suckers from the start, and it turns out they were right. Kudos gentlemen, game well played. 

But getting back to Minot, maybe more than anything, I believe in the power of storytelling. I had hoped Minot would craft the story of a conservative-yet-progressive place that cares about the environment by rejecting the municipal recycling status quo and forging a different path, one that aligns with this place’s realities, geography, and economics. That’s a path and a story with impacts that might ripple out beyond our local landfill. That’s the ship I wanted a ticket on. It sailed, too.

All that griping aside, I kept my recycling bin. The best thing for Minot – now that we’re paying for it whether I like it or not – is to participate. If we’re burning the fuel anyway, my plastic might as well be on the truck. And hey, we do live in a place where supporting the oil industry isn’t all bad.

But they still won’t get my aluminum. I drive by Gerdot often enough that I’m going to stop and collect my ten bucks.

Josh Wolsky

Developer & Writer @TheMinot Voice, Fan of the Souris River, SavorMinot Advocate. Fortunate to be a 'former' City Council member ;)

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