My daughter was nuts about Harry Potter. I read the books to her when she was too young to read them alone. Age 11 is when kids are called to attend Hogwarts School of Wizardry by messenger owls. We were going to be in Canada at a friend’s house on Alexis’ 11th birthday and I arranged for a parchment letter written in elaborate calligraphy, announcing her acceptance to Hogwarts, to be delivered by mail there.

It couldn’t have been more perfect: the letter arrived on her birthday, she knew immediately it was a fake, went into hysterics and locked herself in her room at my friend’s house.

I was persona non grata and to this day she refuses to discuss the incident, even though it happened 15 years ago. I had the best of intentions for a birthday surprise but it led to the opposite result. I clearly didn’t think it through thoroughly enough.

Recycling is viewed as an unmitigated good, which unfortunately it is not. The city has made a mistake in moving to the single stream, 90-gallon bin method of recycling. I served on the City Council and am very familiar with the complaints about Dependable Recycling, many of them valid. However, Dependable Recycling is already single stream.

When the idea of another 90-gallon bin for recycling (in addition to garbage and yard waste bins) was first floated back when I was on the Council, many citizens were angry. Senior citizens called me to say they didn’t have that much recycling, didn’t want/couldn’t handle a 90-gallon bin, etc.

Apartment dwellers and owners called saying they were happy to recycle with the small blue bins provided by Dependable but didn’t have room for additional, or perhaps multiple, 90-gallon recycling bins. People who live in twin-plex homes and condominiums also expressed that concern to me.

I’m afraid in their attempt to increase recycling participation, the City Council will have encouraged the opposite with this change in policy.

Planet Money (National Public Radio) recently did a two-part podcast on the economics of recycling and the findings were not promising. It makes environmental and economic sense to continue to recycle tin and aluminum cans, as well as other metals, but not much else.

Their report quoted a recycler in Arizona who has to pay a facility, one that used to buy the recyclables from him, $200 to recycle the material. but charges only $30 to dump the same recyclables at a landfill.

China used to take one-half of the world’s recyclables but now, under Operation National Sword, will take only a pittance of the cleanest, pre-sorted and most economically viable materials. Ironically, China’s refusal to take most plastics helps the oceans since some plastic is inevitably spilled overboard when it’s transported by sea.

The New York Times reports that hundreds of cities have stopped their recycling programs because of the expense to pick up materials that then ultimately had no market for actual recycling. Philadelphia now incinerates half of its recycled materials in an effort to produce energy. Business Insider reports, due to the relatively low cost of petroleum, that it is cheaper to manufacture new plastic than to recycle and reuse old plastic materials.

When you factor in the energy to heat the water to clean the recyclables, the energy used to collect/transport/sort/ship them to factories, and then the energy expended at the factory remanufacturing recycled material into new products, are we saving much of anything?

We should conserve by doing things like drinking water from the tap, toting it around in travel mugs instead of plastic bottles. We should recycle what we reasonably can and try to reduce our waste of materials that aren’t economical to recycle.

Expending more resources and creating more pollution in order to feel good about recycling is counterproductive. Adopting a policy that will actually discourage people from recycling doesn’t make much sense either.