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South Florida ‘Green’ House Sits on Shaky Environmental Grounds

December 3, 2013 - 6:00pm

Recycling is a noble cause. Except when its not.

Ernando Jaramillo of Miami has made recycling his life. In 2008, at the height of the Great Recession, he bought an old school bus and turned it into an eccentric home. Instead of using gasoline, he converted the bus to run on vegetable oil thrown out by restaurants.

Jaramillo, married with two children, also reuses discarded items from his place of work.

The fences you see around here were made from old discarded pallets, he said.

It doesnt stop there. Every morsel of food the family eats is home grown.

The serial recycler now wants to get others to come around to his way of thinking, so he founded a project called Colony1. Its not about making money, he said. Its all about raising awareness about the environment and making recycling a core philosophy.

Ironically, his mission could hurt the environment, according to one recycling critic.

Michael C. Munger, professor of political science, public policy and economics at North Carolinas Duke University, has studied recycling for years and might be Colony1?s worst nightmare.

Recycling is a big net waste of resources and money, Munger told

Recycling, including the costs of collecting the waste in tiny, mixed amounts, transporting the waste to a handling facility, sorting it, cleaning it, repackaging it, and then transporting it again, often for great distances, to a market that will buy the commodity for some actual use, is almost always more expensive than land filling that same waste in a local facility, Munger said.

Once you add in the pollution generated by large trucks traveling far and wide to pick up and deliver recyclables, it starts to look less like a save the planet program and more like a feel good program, Munger said.

In an article called Recycling: Can It Be Wrong, When It Feels So Right? the economist uses glass bottles to illustrate his point.

The commodity that glass can be ground into just isnt very valuable, he writes.

In effect, citizens are paying the city extra to throw away glass bottles, so that they can pretend its being recycled.

But thats not likely to deter Jaramillo or his sustainable community set to be built on public land.

Jarmillo says hes about solutions. He acknowledges that businesses dont like to use recyclable materials because theyre expensive, but by imposing fines, he says compliance is attainable.

Jaramillo also said Colony1 will make a great educational facility.

The money issue shouldnt be a reason to contribute to environmental degradation, Jaramillo said.

Contact Marianela Toledo en twitter @mtoledoreporter.

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