Today, as you’ve probably heard, is America Recycles Day, a big business-backed celebration of sorts that’s described as “the only nationally recognized day dedicated to recycling programs in the United States.” How are you observing it? Me, I’ll be swinging by a GrowNYC textile recycling drop-off spot at the Union Square Greenmarket with a recycle bag full of old bath towels, sheets and sartorial castaways.

But really, I won’t be doing this in celebration or observance. Recycling old textiles, for me, is a matter of habit and more importantly, it frees up real estate in my apartment. I could do it any other Monday. This leads me to wonder … do we even need a PepsiCo-sponsored designated recycling awareness day at all? Is it really necessary? 

TreeHugger architecture and design writer Lloyd Alter doesn’t think so. In a recent post, Alter proposes that we trash America Recycles Day — which, by the way, is brought to us by the folks at Keep America Beautiful of crying Indian commercial fame — and observe Zero Waste Day on Nov. 15 instead. Writes Alter:

America Recycles Day celebrates a culture of waste. It is designed to make us feel good about throwing things away. Instead we should be promoting a culture of zero waste and producer responsibility. Let's show Nestle Waters and the American Chemistry Council how its done by making November 15 Zero Waste Day. Recycling isn't good enough anymore.
Alter goes on to suggest a few Zero Waste Day activities like dining at restaurants that eschew throwaway packing and not buying anything of the disposable for an entire day. Sound familiar? Alter’s Zero Waste Day post is a toned-down take on a similar post he wrote about back in 2008, "Recycling is Bull****; Make Nov. 15 Zero Waste Day, not America Recycles Day," where he called recycling a "fraud, a sham, a scam perpetrated by big business on the citizens and municipalities of America." Ouch.

Needless to say, that post ruffled a few feathers, raised a few eyebrows, and got TreeHugger commenters talking. Some applauded Alter for speaking his mind while others found his post too harsh and his points unfounded. I think Alter does make a few good points, although I don't agree with him 100 percent ... his view of recycling as a form of corporate brainwashing is a touch melodramatic. I do, however, especially like his idea of adding "repair" to the "three Rs" although I don't think it should replace "recycle" all together. 

Both versions of Alter's Zero Waste Day post are worth a read (the latest one also appears in a slightly different form on Planet Green as well). Take a look and let me know what you think. Is Alter on to something? And I don't think an America Recycles Day-related post would be complete without two choice scenes from "Serial Mom," a great 1994 satire from John Waters where the demented title character (played by Kathleen Turner) takes recycling seriously. Very seriously. Enjoy.


Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

America Recycles Day: Trash for thought
TreeHugger's Lloyd Alter — not exactly a fan of America Recycles Day — thinks Nov. 15 should be called Zero Waste Day. Plus, you better watch your 'three Rs