While everyone is doing their level best, there are certain mathematical truths working against us all the time, whether asleep or awake.

Take recycling, for instance.

Every day you fill your Blue Box with bottles, cans, newsprint, cardboard, and anything else with the three-sided circle.  And one day a week you force your teenager to earn their allowance by hauling the bin about 20 feet to the curb.

Job done!  Just about everything you’re told could be recycled is sitting on the street waiting for the municipality to pick up.  We’ll be a zero waste society for sure in no time at all.

But then again, have you ever wondered if everyone else has a recycling program serving their home?  And if they do, is everyone quite as diligent as you?  And even if they are, once that material is picked up is it getting where it’s supposed to go, which is to say, if your juice box is being shipped to a Third World country for the foil and the rest of the material landfilled there, well, that doesn’t count as recycling.

So, unfortunately, here comes the math.

If your municipality provides blue box service across 90% of its jurisdiction, and 90% of the citizenry participate, and there are available and sustainable markets for 90% of the material that is collected, then the recycling rate for your community will stand at about 73% – assuming that each part of the system operates at 100% efficiency.

When analyzed this way, the 90/90/90 rule is so fantastically aggressive that it’s, well, fantasy, making it unlikely that any municipality anywhere on the planet is even close to a 73% recycling rate.

And so, sad to say, that means that the 70% recycling rate your city or town so proudly brags about in campaign literature and regime-friendly editorials should be viewed with considerable skepticism.

Which is why smart governments make 65% sound like a good target, or more likely, they pitch 50% as a most reasonable goal.

In either case, the math doesn’t scan.

Because, even if you get to 50%, you’re still a million miles away.

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