Recycle Your Recycling Ideas

One of the most influential lower-court judges in American history was Judge Learned Hand who served during the first half of the twentieth century. . If you know Hebrew, his name is an especially intriguing one. As my husband and I explain in our book, Buried Treasure: Secrets for Living from the Lord’s Language, the Hebrew word for child, Y-L-D, is composed of the Hebrew word for hand, Y-D, with the letter whose sound is ‘L’ and whose meaning is ‘learned’ in the middle. In other words, when all goes well and you are blessed, your children become extensions of you, extra hands that learned your teachings and can carry them forward. Alas, Judge Hand’s name did not come from his parents deep understanding of the Hebrew language but rather because Learned was his mother’s maiden name. Nonetheless, his name always makes me smile.

The above should give you some idea of the pride with which I read a letter one of our daughters and her husband wrote after hearing that two mothers of girls in their daughter’s class had spoken to the class about the importance of environmentalism and recycling. I have redacted identifying information and added some explanatory words in brackets, but I hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Dear [names of mothers],

Thank you for your dedication to [name of school].  As you were introducing recycling projects through the school last year, I had some thoughts that I did not get down on paper till now and I was hoping you wouldn’t mind if I shared with you some of my thoughts on recycling.

I know that nowadays in the secular world, recycling is seen as the ultimate good project for the future of the world, and I do think recycling is fine as long as it is taught from an authentic Torah outlook.  I don’t know how it was introduced to the students, as my daughter wasn’t in class when the projects were introduced, but these are my thoughts on the matter.

My hope is that recycling can be taught within the framework of the following 3 ideas.

Recycling should not be taught as if it is a mitzvah. It is not. It may be good for the planet but I don’t think it can be considered a mitzvah unless Hashem [God] gave us the commandment as one of our 613 mitzvos. [a mitvah—plural, mitzvos or mitzvot—is often translated as a good deed, but that is incorrect. It is a deed that God commands, whether or not we, with our limited human understanding, think it is good or not.]  Non Torah-observant Jews call it a “mitzvah” as part of “Tikun Olam” [a favorite phrase of secular Jews that means improving or correcting the world. However, that phrase is taken from a prayer where it is actually followed by the words, “with the Kingdom of God.” In other words our obligation is not to fix the world based on our own ideas, but only on His.] which is simply a cloaking of their ideals in religious garb without any basis in the Torah.  To borrow the language of those who have abandoned our tradition is damaging to our tradition. 

In the secular world, sometimes subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, people who don’t recycle are considered “evil” or “bad.”  I would hope that our children do not receive this message in any way, and are corrected if they put together a statement on their own, even if it is as simple as “It is good to recycle, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are bad.”  Or “Recycling saves the Earth, therefore if someone does not recycle, they are destroying the Earth.”

In the last century, there has been much emphasis placed on coercing people to do things based on fear.  Of course, this has spread to recycling as well.  Children’s books, television programs, etc, are full of the message that if one doesn’t recycle, the Earth will fill up with garbage and we won’t have anywhere nice to live or the Earth will fill up with garbage and the animals will die.  Sometimes the message is given in the reverse as in, “Recycle to save our planet,” which in fact teaches that the Earth is in danger and is meant to inspire fear among those who care about the Earth and their own lives.  I would hope that any recycling program introduced to [name of school] students does not have any element of fear.

Recycling is fine for those who are inclined to do so, but I honestly believe that the secular world has gone too far with the idea that if more people recycled, the world would be different. I think that sometimes it is hard to focus on what the Torah and authentic Judaism teach about the matter when the world is screaming differently.

In closing, I value our friendship and would love to discuss these ideas further if you would like.

[Signed by our own “Learned Hand” daughter]

26 thoughts on “Recycle Your Recycling Ideas”

  1. This brought to mind the soft advancing controls on the citizens of this country. My husband said it best:
    ” I’m getting a just little tired of people promoting fear and insituting more and more rules to “keep me safe”.
    He was a man of few, but succinct words…

  2. Thank you so much for sharing that wonderful
    Letter and all the comments of yours to other was so helpful theirs and yours. My husband and I are blessed by both of you and your dedication to share Jewish Wisdom and Gods ways!

    I often thank God that in spite of things like toxin in the fish and micro fibers in the wash water God knows how to take care
    Of us and I can trust Him. That He is inspiring true answers to these problems and I pray for them

    I Love seeing how he goes about it.

    Like in Germany they had acid rain that was endangering the Sitka Spruce trees.
    As my husband is a noted international guitar player there were worries by Julian Bream a famous classical guitarist there would be no more of the best German Sitka Spruce for new guitars. He bought up a pile of spruce tops in Germany and brought them back to the UK for his use during the hight of the problem.

    But thanks be to God the spruce in Germany are safe now and Jillian gave away the tops to a Guitar maker. We now own one of these beautiful guitars with one of these very Sita German Spruce endangered tops from the past!!!
    God is Good!

    1. What a fascinating story, Deirdra. There are real risks in the world, but too many people care more about publicity and advancing their agenda rather than dealing with reality. That breeds cynicism and makes it harder to counter what needs to be countered.

  3. Rabbi dedicated a portion of a podcast to this subject a few months back so I recently researched how the City of Dallas handles the problem. Our main landfill is only 2000 acres in size – just 3 sq. miles. It has been in use for 38 years already and is projected to serve the city’s millions of people for another 40 years!! WOW!! And almost all of the recyclables are tossed in with the rest of the trash (just like Rabbi said!), with only a small amount of it being crushed and shredded to make materials for roads.

    I also read that most other cities have stopped recycling as well, for two reasons. First, it is just too expensive and impractical for most cities, and second, China has stopped accepting the massive amounts of “recyclable” stuff our country was sending them because it was just too nasty to be processed when it arrived. So are we a nation of HYPOCRITES?? Do we just want to SAY we are consciences, and SAY we want to save the planet, but ONLY IF it doesn’t cost us very much, and ONLY IF it doesn’t inconvenience us to the point where we have to get our hands dirty in sorting the stuff out, and ONLY IF some other country will do it for us??

    I truly believe that the overwhelming majority of human beings also love this planet God made for us and truly try to take care of it. And they are not in a panic over the situation because they understand, as Rabbi is apt to say, “how the world REALLY WORKS”. Those who don’t appreciate this great gift from our Maker, and who tend to slop it up appear to mostly be on the progressive side of the coin, and seem to be the very ones creating the “save the planet” hysteria. But if the planet needs saving they are the ones it needs saving from – in my humble opinion.

  4. It’s been so long again since I’ve commented, however, I do continue to avidly read this site and the comments to it! I just love the Hebrew lesson (and the Judge’s name; also I’ve gifted “Buried Treasure” to a lot of people) in your post alongside this thoughtful letter. Your daughter’s three points (to use the Torah’s worldview on every subject, to not think that people are evil or bad for not recycling, and to not incite fear in people about the planet as it relates to recycling) are definitely needed to discuss the subject with common sense rather than with our emotions or “hearts.” Thanks for sharing the great products that y’all produce with your audience!

  5. Enough said about the religion of environmentalism. Perhaps a rule of thumb, recycle for financial gain, i.e. someone is willing to pay you for that commodity such as aluminum cans. I personally don’t recycle simply because volume, logistics, and expended time is not a financial gain for me.

    1. I don’t think everything comes down to finances, though it definitely matters. I’d rather not get money for something that is futile and unnecessary.

  6. I absolutely agree environmentalism has become a religion. But my concern and if Christ doesn’t return as so many are praying for, as I ride by many dump sites. And use to take mine myself, as well as my recycles to observe the progress if any. Most are by the waterways and even though great efforts are taken to bury it, the stink just going by on my way to somewhere is pungent. The ocean has so many small plastic particles that aren’t breaking down and we eat the fish that eat it. We dump our trash in the Gulf of Mexico, too. I’m no, longer concerned about something that surely seems to not concern most. I’ve learned to let go and let G-D. Since I am just one person on a planet with many, many more people. I care but I certainly do not have much control over others.

    1. We absolutely need to care about the environment. It is wonderful that certain waterways have been cleaned up and no one wants to live in filth (though cities like San Francisco and Seattle seem to be fine with it as long as they feel compassionate towards those living there). The question is to actually focus on what we can do and not waste time, money and effort on what has minuscule results.

  7. When we buy a bottle of water, for example, we pay for the water and the bottle but who pays to dispose of the bottle? The government, or better said our tax dollars. We all know what that means.
    I would propose that a disposal fee is added to all single use plastic and aluminum containers so there is enough money to pay for disposing of them properly.

    Years ago, there was a deposit on the glass bottles of soda you purchased. There were some that collected discarded bottles and turned them in to collect the deposit. I like that idea as well.

    1. I think there is still a deposit on some glass bottles, Luis. The question is the best options for taking care of our world, which we certainly have to do, vs. the ones that we emotionally grab onto whether or not they do any good or enough good for the effort.

  8. Nile C. Britanico

    Hi, Mrs. Lapin

    In our City (I’m in the Philippines) the garbage truck won’t collect your trash when it’s not segregated. But guess what, when they finally collect it, they mix it up in the truck as if it doesn’t matter. I think most people do this kind of stuff out of fear or just for show indeed. Yes, there are indeed great benefits out of recycling materials like paper, plastic, etc. but yes we should as well have objective, common sense approaches on matters such as these.

    As always, thank you for your work.

    1. Nile, that happens in many American cities as well that the garbage gets all mixed together after people meticulously separated it.

  9. A subject that gets no debate regarding recycling is how economically efficient it is. In the late 1990’s, and with those technologies present then, the only trash that actually required less energy (and cost) to recycle was aluminum. All other trash, i.e.; paper, glass, plastics, steel, and, oil-based substances required more energy to recycle than to make new in equal quantity. And, although common knowledge suggests that we’re running out of space to dispose of our trash, the entire population of the world can live in a city with the density of New York City and in an area the size of the state of Texas. Plenty of room in the world to bury trash. Where are the cost/benefit analyses? I’d also like to see similar analyses done regarding pollutant output of burning gasoline v. electric generation and battery production for automobiles. Let’s get some facts! Let’s dispel common knowledge and get actual knowledge. I suspect, yet I do not know for fact, that this whole movement is political and not factual. Thus, I applaud this letter in an effort to disarm the political motivations that may be present in the school.

    1. It’s not just economic efficiency that isn’t discussed Doug, as you say. It is whether the net result is helpful or harmful to the environment. Right now, the basis seems to be if it makes people feel virtuous, not if it works.

  10. I used to submit separated trash for recycling religiously as recycling seemed to be a common sense good. However, things that seem commonsense are not always true. A few years ago I heard a news report of a study that was done on recycling that found that when considering the entire process of recycling, for most materials recycling is actually a net detriment on the environment compared to producing virgin materials. The study did find that a one or two types of materials (I don’t remember which they are) are a net benefit to the environment compared to producing virgin materials. So it seems that Rabbi Lapin is correct about recycling being some sort of sacrament, particularly to Gaia worshippers (of which I am not one).

    I still separate my trash and submit the supposedly recyclable materials for recycling, mainly out of habit.

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