Monday, September 20, 2010

Forced Government Recycling is Garbage; It Wastes Scarce, Valuable Resources and Lowers Our Wealth

From Jeff Jacoby:

"Unlike commercial and industrial recycling — a thriving voluntary market that annually salvages tens of millions of tons of metal, paper, glass, and plastic — mandatory household recycling is a money loser. Cost studies show that curbside recycling can cost, on average, 60 percent more per ton than conventional garbage disposal. In 2004, an analysis by New York’s Independent Budget Office concluded, according to The New York Times, that “it cost anywhere from $34 to $48 a ton more to recycle material, than to send it off to landfills or incinerators.’’

“There is not a community curbside recycling program in the United States that covers its cost,’’ says Jay Lehr, science director at the Heartland Institute and author of a handbook on environmental science. They exist primarily to make people “feel warm and fuzzy about what they are doing for the environment.’’

Mandatory recycling programs “force people to squander valuable resources in a quixotic quest to save what they would sensibly discard,’’ writes Clemson University economist Daniel K. Benjamin. “On balance, recycling programs lower our wealth.’’

Don Boudreaux responds:

"When materials are worth recycling, markets for their reuse naturally arise. For materials with no natural markets for their reuse, the benefits of recycling are less than its costs – and, therefore, government efforts to promote such recycling waste resources.

Everyday experience should teach us this fact. The benefits of recycling clothing, for example, are large enough to prompt us to buy costly clothes-recycling machines that we routinely use to recycle for tomorrow the clothes we wear today. We call these machines “washers and dryers.” And when American families no longer want their clothing, organizations such as Goodwill come by to gather the discarded garments to recycle them for use by poor people.

People also recycle their homes. The one I own and live in was previously owned by a family who recycled it – which included refurbishing it – rather than simply discarding it when they moved to another town. Many people also drive recycled (“used”) cars, stock their homes with recycled (“antique”) furniture, listen to recycled (“used”) CDs, and read recycled (“used”) books.

Markets promote conservation when it’s worthwhile; government promotes it when it’s wasteful."

MP: Remember that "time" is our most valuable and scarce resource, and that is usually one of the biggest costs of recycling (as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown reminds us in a classic blues song: "My time is expensive, I gotta make it last"); but it almost never gets accounted for in most cost-benefit analyses of recycling.


At 9/20/2010 9:11 AM, Blogger juandos said...

Penn & Teller told us that Recycling was B.S.! years ago...

(30 minute clip)

At 9/20/2010 9:15 AM, Blogger BlogDog said...

I'm not greenie but I find recycling benefits me in all sorts of ways. As long as the re-use happens in my home.
Case in point: I buy Costco quantities of TP. The bag the packages of Charmin come in, properly opened, works as a trash bag almost the volume of my trash can in the garage. Bingo - re-use and one less bag I have to buy.

At 9/20/2010 9:36 AM, Blogger Buddy R Pacifico said...

Regarding household garbage:

Cost analysis has to take into account the cost of recycling and the avoidance of disposal. The cost of disposal is very high for a lot of large municiplaities and much lower in rural settings. Manadatory recycling makes cost sense when disposal costs are very high.

BTW, saving time (for the disposer) is not an issue in Seattle because recycled items are all dumped in the same large bin.

At 9/20/2010 9:45 AM, Blogger morganovich said...

san francisco must have about the worst returns on a recycling program in the country.


because none of it gets there.

we have roving gangs who steal it all from your cans on trash night.

they range in sophistication from guys with garbage bags to teams with pickup trucks with plywood extenders.

they all know the trash schedule.

there is literally NO WAY your recycling will be there in the morning.

alas, this drives up the cost of trash collection. the recycler has to buy all the cans that were being given to them. that cost gets passed along.

At 9/20/2010 10:09 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

I don't think this post is up to Carpe Diem's typical quality. It is no big secret that recycling programs are money losers, which is why "greenies" have come up with a bunch of reasons to defend those programs:

a) the private costs of disposal do not reflect the social costs of disposal (i.e. there are environmental concerns with our growing landfills)

b) having people recycle makes them think about the environment and therefore volunteer to act in ways that save social costs (e.g. they shut off the lights when they leave, which may save them money but also saves society from emissions).

c) it prevents us from overconsuming natural resources that are difficult to store or transport in massive quantities and therefore the current price may not appropriately reflect future scarcity (water and/or oil might be like this)

At 9/20/2010 10:26 AM, Blogger Walker said...

I suspect that if someone would just follow the recycling trucks, at the end of the route, all of it just goes into a big hole -- together and unsorted. One of the vanities of our age that people think recycling is magic.

At 9/20/2010 10:33 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Walker, do you have any data to support your cynicism?

At 9/20/2010 10:51 AM, Blogger PP said...

MP: Remember that "time" is our most valuable and scare resource, and that is usually one of the biggest cost of recycling (as Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown reminds us in a classic blues song: "My time is expensive, I gotta make it last"); but it almost never gets accounted for in most cost-benefit analyses of recycling.
And thank you for reminding me:)pp
Your posts are great! Your fan.

At 9/20/2010 11:16 AM, Blogger Benjamin Cole said...

I don't mind that certain wasteful activities become the "bad guys" in right-wing set pieces.

But what about $3 trillion wasted in Iraqistan?

Dwarfs other waste.

At 9/20/2010 3:09 PM, Blogger Tom Craver said...

It'd be even cheaper to just toss it out in the street, or if you don't like the looks of that, build a bonfire in the back yard and burn it.

Both of those cheaper methods were common earlier in history. Was it warm fuzzy feelings that caused us to discard those cheaper methods for the BS of expensive trash pick-up services?

At 9/20/2010 5:29 PM, Blogger Jason said...

I wonder if recycling was a reason companies ran from glass to plastic bottles. Glass heavier, more costly to recycle, etc. Another unintended consequence?

At 9/20/2010 7:13 PM, Blogger W.E. Heasley said...

Recycling is an odd creature. Firms have been recycling forever and consumers have been recycling one way or another for years. But there is clearly value to recycling and there is dis-value in other recycling.

However, "politics" through the mechanism of government (its everywhere, its everywhere!!) has entered recycling and the dis-value portion is glossed over in favor of the non-defined term "green". Plus voluntary recycling is likely more valuable and less costly than forced recycling.

Recycling has been empirically examined but those studies are sweep under the rug due to "green".

One item that may very well occur in the future is: if the dis-value recycling was allowed to end in land fills, those land fills may well end up being "mined" in the future for what was once dis-value that becomes valuable in the future.

At 9/20/2010 8:37 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"The cost of disposal is very high for a lot of large municiplaities"...

Hmmm, maybe municipalities should turn over the whole show over to private companies considering the track record of most municipalities...

"But what about $3 trillion wasted in Iraqistan?"...

You got a credible source for that figure pseudo benny?

We know though that California's a mess thanks to it citizens...

At 9/21/2010 4:10 AM, Blogger niknaknoo said...

I would disagree that time is our most valuable resource. Our most valuable recources are natural resources, many of which there is a finite supply.

We have more time than we know what to do with - look at all the unemployed or under employed people. Collectively, we have an excess of time.

Also what about the physical damage that mining for these resources does to the environment. What happens when we run out of landfill space - something that is already a problem in many parts of Europe. We should recycle now for the sake of future generations.

At 9/21/2010 10:27 AM, Blogger juandos said...

"Also what about the physical damage that mining for these resources does to the environment"...

Al Gore, is that you?

Malthusians never seem to get it right...

Reason vs Faith: Julian Simon vs Paul Ehrlich


Do you have trouble confusing fact and myth? Do you have a penchant for spending days, months, years reaffirming what has been uniformly proven false? Have you ever lost money because of your unyielding faith in your nutty ideas? If you answered "Yes" to one or more of these questions, fear not! -- you'll get an A from at least one Stanford professor, tenured biologist Paul Ehrlich...

At 9/21/2010 3:55 PM, Blogger Ron H. said...

"...fear not! -- you'll get an A from at least one Stanford professor, tenured biologist Paul Ehrlich..."

Thanks for the link, juandos, The best part is that it was apparently written by a college student. Even those you might expect would be most sympathetic to such drivel can see what a persistent clown Erlich is.

At 9/28/2010 2:38 AM, Blogger uclalien said...


You obviously didn't watch the Penn & Teller video that juandos so kindly linked to.

Your entire post is based on myths.

1) More natural resources are consumed through the process of recycling than through creating these products from scratch. (And 3x more costly according to the man who wrote the national recycling guidelines for the EPA.)

2) Simply being unemployed or underemployed does not mean that a person has any more disposable time than someone who works full time. You may find this hard to believe, but many people prefer to earn an income and spend a good portion of their days looking for work when they are in need of it. But even if a person may have more "spare" time, how fruitful will a person's job hunt be if he is forced to spend any portion of that time separating trash?

3) You seem to be ignoring the physical damage that is done to the environment through the process of recycling. Don't the extra trucks, plants, machinery, etc. required fuel, electricity, mortar, steel, and other natural resources? So what you say is bad on one end of the process appears to be acceptable when it fits your argument.

4) This one is for Daniel D also. We are in neither short-term nor long-term danger of running out of landfill space. As the video illustrates, a tiny little dot on the map would represent 1,000 years of landfill capacity for the entire US. And even this ignores the fact that the EPA standards by which the these landfills are now constructed are so strict that it is safe to cover and reuse this land (in other words, recycle it).


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