Counterpoint: Should Schreiber classrooms get rid of recycling bins?

Sabina Unni and Tessa Peierls

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a literal patch of garbage “twice the size of the continental United States” that is largely made up of plastics. Recycling plastics is important, as some bottles can take 1000 years to decompose, meaning that they will be polluting the earth for a long while. In addition, plastics come from a non-renewable resource, and petroleum is becoming more and more expensive as supplies are diminishing.

‘There is an enormous number of landfill sites in the US and these sites produce a large amount of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is releaseed as the biodegradable waste such as food and paper decomposes,” said junior Andrew Gruber. “Existing landfill sites are filling up fast, and it is important to ensure the sustainability of our sanitation system.”

Recycling plastics also ensures that less plastic ends up in disadvantaged people’s backyards, as slums often develop around landfills in countries like Nigeria and Brazil to house the people who work there. A common theme discovered when analyzing the impacts of pollution is that it consistently hurts the poorest people the most. Because more disadvantaged people often don’t have voices in their communities, they often end up with the negative impacts of environmental policies and practices.

Many argue that there is no purpose of recycling bins if people do not actually use them to the fullest extent.  Those are the same people that argue that there is no point to vote due to the large number of other voters.  Economist Garrett Hardin coined this outlook “the Tragedy of the Commons.” When members who share a public system feel that other members have no regard for it, they in turn lack regard for it.  This is heavily applicable to environmental science. In a large public system people feel that their minute impact is unimportant, just as one piece of plastic trash in the vast Pacific Ocean seems insignificant.

The argument that we should get rid of recycling bins because they are not widely used is flawed because the bins are put to use, even if not every student recycles bottles.  And the best approach is not to eliminate the bins, but to encourage their use instead.  Many students are confused about which types of paper and plastic materials should go in the recycling bin, which causes them to just throw the trash out. Increased education about recycling and clearer instructions can make a big difference.

The anti-recycling bin argument’s logic, when expressed in a different situation, reveals its flaws.  Following the logic is equivalent to saying that people should not wear sunscreen because it does not always prevent burns. However, this logic is weak because while ideal measures are unrealistic, to do something is better than to do nothing.

The recycling bins at Schreiber are not just functional, they are also there to spread environmental awareness.  Their existence reminds students that recycling is something that is a current issue in society, and that pollution is a significant problem.  Because students see these blue bins every day, whether they throw their bottles in them or not, they are aware of the issue of human waste and the efforts that are being taken to reduce it. The worst thing to do would be to take these bins away, because that would teach the student body that they are not worth keeping around, or that we are somehow already close to solving this global dilemma.  Instead, we need to promote recycling, and get more people involved in the green movement.

“Recycling is something you can do and know with a certainty that you are helping the earth,” said senior Laynie Calderwood. “There is no gray area, like with energy consumption— you either are or you aren’t and I like being 100% sure that what I do is making a difference.”

Allowing students the opportunity to  recycle promotes a greener society as well.