Q: I'm worried that the energy I use to drive my recyclables to the recycling center outweighs the benefits of recycling these items. How can I calculate whether it's worth it to recycle?

- Joe, FL

A: How Principal Skinner of you. Remember the Simpsons’ episode where he visits a recycling center and says, "A half-ton of newspaper and all we get is 75 cents? That won't even cover the gas I used to go to the store to buy the twine to tie up the bundles." Actually, if you remember that episode, you should really get out more. But Skinner is right — sometimes it seems like the drive to the recycling center (not to mention the time you could have spent watching the game) just isn’t worth it.

Unfortunately, not every eco-inquiry has a black-and-white answer, and this is one of those instances. There's no foolproof way to calculate the worth-it-factor of your trip to the recycling center — the necessary studies just haven’t been conducted yet. So if your town doesn’t already provide municipal recycling pickup services, the first thing to do is pressure authorities to hop to it. “Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter” (name that movie!). And in the meantime, use your own best judgment — look at how far you’ll have to travel to the center, how much you’re carrying in the way of recyclables, and what kind of gas mileage your vehicle gets.

Also, make sure you’re not driving further than you need to — check out RecyclingCenters.org. The searchable, nationwide database produces a map and list showing the nearest drop-off points for any zip code in the country. If your load seems too light to justify the trip, wait a week, ask your neighbors if they’ve got some recyclables you could take along with you, or run some other errands near the recycling center while you’re there. What the heck, go crazy and organize a monthly, neighborhood drive — take turns with the people on your street. Or, and excuse us for a moment while we state the obvious, you could always make a bike trip out of it.

You’re not going to feel better about making the trip until we get an authority to tell you it’s the right thing to do, are you? Fine. Dan Cronin over at the Environmental Defense says: “Recycling is generally worth the effort.” Okay?

Story by Anneli Rufus and Kristan Lawson. This article originally appeared in Plenty in April 2008. The story was added to MNN.com.

Copyright Environ Press 2008