To Fight the Drought, Stop Recycling?

Green vs. Green? California, where I live, is in the middle of a bad drought. The governor has ordered unprecedented mandatory water restrictions with the aim of reducing water use by 25 percent.  Restrictions on watering lawns, washing cars, and even showering are expected, as well as price hikes.

Here’s another potential water-saving idea: A moratorium on mandatory recycling. I would guess at least 10% of my water use comes from washing/rinsing all the recyclables I am required to separate out from the regular trash. We single yuppies use a lot of plastic take-out containers. Rinsing them makes recycling them easier and, more important, avoids having the recycling bins become a magnet for rats. All that rinsing is a huge hassle. I assume it is normally worth it because it cuts down on land fill use and conserves raw materials like aluminum.

But are those worthy ends more important, right now, than saving us from running out of one of the necessities of life? Seems like a no-brainer: It’s more important to save the water. We could start recycling again when it starts raining again.

Why hasn’t there been conspicuous talk by politicians of a pause in recycling? I don’t know. Maybe because environmentalists have too much invested in the recycling-industrial complex to even admit there are higher priorities. Maybe because greens don’t like to fight greens. Maybe nobody wants to depart from the pat, moralistic narrative of humans using too many resources and now paying the price. Or maybe there is some technical problem I don’t know about.

It seems worth at least discussing. Wouldn’t we make more progress fighting the drought if we made it the easy thing to do — i.e. by simply  not doing something most people don’t like doing anyway. “You don’t have to eat your spinach!” is apt to find a more receptive audience than “Stop taking showers.” Or do environmentalists only know how to hector?