Recycling is good, but how you define good needs to be looked at from an economic standpoint. Don’t take this as fact, but I think glass, paper, cardboard, some plastics, etc, actually require as much energy to recycle as is used in the production of new material. I’m pretty sure aluminum recycling saves energy. If there is no energy savings with certain forms of recycling, and if those forms of recycling require new infrastructures for the collection, sorting, and reprocessing of waste materials, again, how can that be made beneficial to the manufacturer? See, every company that produces a product that can be recycled or refurbished or repaired has to hire people and build facilities with which to perform those services.
As to whether recycling pushes the issue aside…hmmm. I’m not sure. I think when there are still a ton of products marketed on the merits of their disposability (Glad Ware, for instance) it sort of is a greenwash, depending on the integrity of the company. But the fact is people are bad at managing money and they buy a lot of crap they don’t need or use. The evidence: yard sales, thrift shops, ebay, Dr. Phil (seriously, take a look at how some of his guests indiscriminately blow money out their asses on really stupid stuff), dumpsters, etc. Maybe you ought to survey what people are throwing away. For that matter, take a look at goods consumption as a function of the availability of credit. I’m sure you’d find an undeniable connection there.
I have read a little bit about industrial ecosystems (term may not be correct, but it’ll get you on the right track), in which company A produces waste product 1, which is required by company B, whose production creates waste 2, which is required by company C, which produces waste 3, which is required by company A, and so forth. You could look into that, and from what I understand there is starting to be a fair amount of research available.
Interesting side note. You probably eat salads every now and then, right? Lettuce provides very little nutritional benefit, very few calories for us. But the production of lettuce requires an entire agricultural infrastructure, as well as a supply chain that may extend from the Napa Valley all the way to Portland, Maine. Far more calories are burned in the production and shipment of lettuce than it provides us.
Favorite products: A carved wooden bowl I bought at the Salvation Army for 88 cents, my classical guitar, and a $50 bike. The bowl was beautiful and I probably rescued it from some hipster’s ironic kitsch den. I sort of inherited the guitar and it provides me with hours of enjoyment and another mode for creative expression with little maintenance except for tuning. The bike is strictly functional, but I only bike for in-city transportation, so it would have been a waste of money to buy a “good” bike.