Unfortunately, your interview with Stephen Dubner showed that Mr. Dubner is not an expert on recycling. Unlike Mr. Dubner's claims, newspapers and plastic water bottles are both very recyclable. There is huge demand for both those materials. In fact, there is such a demand for the material that plastic bottles are made of that the beverage industry is working with the National Recycling Coalition in order to find ways to increase the amount on plastic bottles that are recycled. Of course, the best way to insure that bottles are recycled is to have a bottle deposit law (bottle bill) in your state but not all states do and the beverage industry does not like deposit laws because it makes them, the generators of the waste, do the recycling, the way it should be, rather than putting the burden on taxpayers. Many people don't know it but most plastic water bottles are made into rugs. The material that the bottles are made of is very similar to polyester, in fact, it is a type of polyester.
Newspaper is also a material with tremendous demand. Mr Dubner's info on newspaper recycling is over 10 years old. The Newspaper industry has made a tremendous investment over the last 15 years to retrofit its old plants and build new plants that can use recycled newspaper. It saves money, energy reduces pollution and saves trees to recycle your newspaper.
If any of the materials that most people recycle are problematic glass would be culprit, as it is hard for the facilities that process community recyclables to produce a glass product that is pure enough to be made into new bottles. Most glass from community recycling programs gets ground into a sand or a gravel substitute that is used in engineering applications like road building or drainage projects. These uses don't have a lot of value. Bottle Bills are the answer to this problem as they can more easily separate the glass from other materials and segregate it by color.
The only good advise Mr Dubner gave was that waste prevention and reuse are better than recycling. Bring your own tap water with you in a reusable bottle. The water is better for you and you will be reducing waste.
So please do not listen to the guy with the funny sounding book. He obviously didn't do his homework on recycling. His book may be entertaining but if his interview on recycling is any indication of his research, take his arguments with a grain of salt.
Recycling Coordinator, Schenectady County and
Board Member of the New York State Association for Reduction Reuse and Recycling