When I agreed to oppose the motion that ‘Recycling is a waste of time’ it didn’t occur to me that most of the audience would be actively hostile to my position. Set up by the Institute of Ideas, the Battle of Ideas was a whole weekend of debates covering topics as diverse as ‘What’s the point of exams’ to ‘Why do people hate America’ and ‘Demonising parents’.
Thomas Deichmann, from a German magazine called Novo had 10 minutes to propose the motion. His main arguments seemed to be that recycling was a hassle, current systems for collection were inefficient and that the concept was really imposed on society, which he described as ‘brainwashing from the elite’. He also said that he didn’t believe in climate change (or at least man-made climate change) and that saving water was pointless.
This meant there was quite a lot for the other three members of the panel, including me, to get their teeth into. Julie Hill, author of ‘Zero Waste’ and former director of the Green Alliance kicked off. She pointed out that just because the logistics of recycling were currently flawed, this didn’t make the task pointless.
My turn. I held up a jar with some crumpled up pieces of foil inside and asked people to imagine that the it represented the planet with all the metals and minerals within. As I threw the contents across the table I questioned the audience as to whether this is what we should be doing with a finite resource.
Of course the argument isn’t just about running out of materials – mining is a hugely destructive industry. Holding up my wedding ring I explained that 20 tonnes of raw materials would have been dug out of the ground to produce the miniscule amount of gold it contains. And gold mining is one of the dirtiest businesses around, using cyanide, arsenic and mercury. As well as the toxic wastes, there’s also the destruction of pristine habitats, as the extraction industry extends into rainforests, the Arctic and the depths of the sea.
The room was packed with people sitting in the aisles. So the collective sigh of disapproval was quite loud when I said that I don’t find recycling takes much time and that I get some satisfaction from doing it. There weren’t many people who empathised with the ‘feel good factor’! In fact, during the hour long debate only one person from the audience spoke in favour of recycling.
At first I wondered if there was a male / female divide. But I quickly noticed a woman in the second row who was harrumphing like a rhinoceros whenever Julie or I spoke. Actually, she figuratively pawed the ground as if she was about to charge – and at the end she did! Luckily for me her target was Julie. I heard her say that she taught environmental management and so couldn’t resist telling her that I thought it was rather sad to teach something with which she clearly had very little empathy. Not surprisingly she wasn’t terribly impressed with this comment…
This exchange was quite mild compared to the general atmosphere in the Lecture Theatre. I found it quite challenging to have my views so vehemently opposed but also quite enjoyed the experience. And I was amused and horrified in equal measure to hear Thomas’s summary that he did support some recycling – of nuclear waste.
Originally posted by Julia Hailes on Telegraph Blogs