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Dartmouth researchers put recycling in perspective

HANOVER, N.H. Three Dartmouth researchers have found that resisting the temptation to buy an SUV can benefit the environment much more than recycling. They say that while recycling of some materials does contribute to overall environmental improvement, other personal decisions, such as what kind of car you drive, have a much greater environmental impact.

Andrew J. Friedland, professor and chair of environmental studies, and his colleagues Tillman U. Gerngross, associate professor at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering, and Richard B. Howarth, associate professor of environmental studies, conducted the research which appears in the April issue of the Elsevier journal, "Environmental Science & Policy." They examined two individual activities, recycling and use of automobiles, and compared their relative environmental benefits.

The authors found that during the past 20 years or so, the amount of material recycled has steadily gone up, and during that same time, fuel efficiency has gone down, because Americans are choosing less fuel efficient vehicles. The authors argue that if the mix of cars and SUVs (which in this study includes sport utility vehicles, light trucks and minivans) had stayed at the 1989 level, it would have saved 75 times more energy a year than what has been saved by recycling plastic, and four times more energy than what has been saved by recycling aluminum.

"Individuals in our society have good intentions," says Friedland, the lead author. "They want to do something good for the environment. I was struck by the perception that many people think that recycling is the most important thing that they could do. In fact, making better transportation decisions would have more environmental benefit."

In this study, the researchers focused on energy use, which is a good indicator of environmental impact, because it affects a variety of environmental factors such as air and water pollution, global warming, and in some c
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Contact: Sue Knapp
Sue.knapp@dartmouth.edu
603-646-3661
Dartmouth College
7-Mar-2003


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