Recycling Reconsidered

From Urban and Industrial Environments

Recycling Reconsidered

The Present Failure and Future Promise of Environmental Action in the United States

By Samantha MacBride

How the success and popularity of recycling has diverted attention from the steep environmental costs of manufacturing the goods we consume and discard.





How the success and popularity of recycling has diverted attention from the steep environmental costs of manufacturing the goods we consume and discard.

Recycling is widely celebrated as an environmental success story. The accomplishments of the recycling movement can be seen in municipal practice, a thriving private recycling industry, and widespread public support and participation. In the United States, more people recycle than vote. But, as Samantha MacBride points out in this book, the goals of recycling—saving the earth (and trees), conserving resources, and greening the economy—are still far from being realized. The vast majority of solid wastes are still burned or buried. MacBride argues that, since the emergence of the recycling movement in 1970, manufacturers of products that end up in waste have successfully prevented the implementation of more onerous, yet far more effective, forms of sustainable waste policy. Recycling as we know it today generates the illusion of progress while allowing industry to maintain the status quo and place responsibility on consumers and local government.

MacBride offers a series of case studies in recycling that pose provocative questions about whether the current ways we deal with waste are really the best ways to bring about real sustainability and environmental justice. She does not aim to debunk or discourage recycling but to help us think beyond recycling as it is today.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262016001 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 7 tables


$30.00 X ISBN: 9780262525244 320 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 7 tables


  • MacBride provides an excellent historical overview of the U.S. recycling efforts, their limitations and the opportunities to improve recycling determinations in the future. This work is of great value to increasing our understanding of the current limitations of recycling efforts and changing policies and perceptions to make recycling more effective in the future.

    Electronic Green Journal


  • As the title implies, Samantha MacBride's Recycling Reconsidered takes a serious, timely, and unvarnished look at recycling in the United States. Her agenda is clearly utilitarian—not to convince us of the environmental virtues of recycling or to offer a cynical appraisal of why it doesn't work but to ask thoughtful questions and make reasonable suggestions well beyond the often trite assessments that regularly appear in printYou can argue with her conclusions, but you cannot dismiss her data, her careful analysis, and her no-nonsense approach.

    Martin V. Melosi

    author of The Sanitary City

  • By charting the waste cycle from curbside collector to the corporate polluter, MacBride reveals layer after layer of the recycling and waste management conundrum, building on and extending previous studies of American waste. In so doing, she has widened our understanding of a very complex issue for contemporary society. For this MacBride should be commended, and Recycling Reconsidered should be added to all relevant readings lists in environmental sociology, contemporary anthropology, social geography, and urban planning.

    Dr. Liam Leonard

    Lecturer in Sociology, Criminology and Human Rights, Institute of Technology, Sligo, Ireland

  • Samantha MacBride has produced an outstanding study that asks profound sociological questions about the way our recycling systems are organized. Her concept of 'busy-ness' is right on target: consumers, environmentalists, and governments are busy recycling and feeling good while the waste industry pursues profits, and the ultimate goals of sustainability and equity get lost in the shuffle. She demonstrates that the recycling movement itself is a big part of the problem, having never made it a priority to regulate, monitor, and focus on manufacturers' waste, and blindly embracing the consumer as the center of a 'can-do' ideology, to the neglect of troubling ecological and market realities. Drawing on her years of experience as a recycling professional, MacBride outlines bold and sensible policy recommendations for a just and sustainable recycling system and the broader materials economy. This book is a must-read for scholars, activists, and policy makers.

    David Naguib Pellow

    Don Martindale Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota and author of Garbage Wars: The Struggle for Environmental Justice in Chicago

  • With a thoughtful and critical eye, this study deconstructs municipal recycling, sorting the valuable aspects from those that just 'feel good' and reveals the strategic tensions that arise when a social movement, the 'zero waste' recycling movement, aligns with a business sector, the recycling industry. With a comfortable mix of technical description, financial analysis and good story telling the book challenges the simple notions of glass and plastic recycling and 'shared product responsibility'. Recognizing the important role that private enterprise can play in reuse, recycling and composting, this book concludes that good government policy remains a critical force in driving a sustainable materials economy.

    Ken Geiser

    Professor of Work Environment, Director, Lowell Center for Sustainable Production, University of Massachusetts, Lowell