Wednesday 24 May 2006


PJ O'Rourke points out that when used items have real value -- Ferraris for example -- they don't need to be 'recycled,' they get sold. 'Recycled' is what happens to stuff with no value, or with so little value only a government regulation can make enough people care.

Why is 'recycling' so good? Jerry Taylor from the Cato Institute talks about recycling paper:
"Fully 87% of our paper stock," says Jerry Taylor, comes from trees which are grown as a crop specifically for the purpose of paper production. Acting to 'conserve trees' through paper recycling is like acting to 'conserve corn' by cutting back on corn consumption." To cap this argument Taylor presents a National Wildlife Federation study shooing that recycling 100 tons of newspaper produces 40 tons of toxic sludge. "Thirteen of the 50 worst Superfund hazardous waste dumps were once recycling facilities," says Taylor.
So recycling pollutes. How 'bout that. And all that crawling through garbage that you and I and the garbage collector have to do -- separating, sorting, piling -- that can't be good for the soul, can it? As a recent Sunday Telegraph item shows, it's not: outbreaks of violence are common as British householders and the collectors of their rubbish express their frustrations at the increasingly pernickety rules on sorting and separation. Grown men and women going through their used pizza cartons and food scraps like rag-pickers in search of silver -- that can't be good, can it?

And what about where all that recycling goes? As even the Minister in charge of Going Through Rubbish concedes, "The challenge in our small country, however, is to find users of recycled products so that they can be put to a good use. This is not always easy. " No. It's not. Tyres, oil and packaging get some recycling -- some. The rest? Well, as the Minister says, "This is not always easy."

So what's the financial cost of all this time wasted sorting and separating our waste? Fortunately, Tim Worstall has done some figures, and he's worked out what it costs Britain every year. It's a lot. If our own time is a consideration, then 'zero waste' it's not.

LINKS: How green bin rounds leave dustmen black and blue - Sunday Telegraph
Euro Trash - Tim Worstall, TechCentralStation

Environment, Conservation


Deadman said...

Coupl4e observaations:

Trash companies get big bucks for recycled material. They probably don't give two shits if it causes pollution and I wouldn't recycle if I had to segregate everything and if it didn't save me money on my garbage bill via the use of a smaller garbage can for non-recyclables.

Sorry folks, the truth hurts. I don't have the time or disposable income to be so damned altruistic.

Libertyscott said...

Funnily enough, there has always been recycling of valuable materials. When ships, planes, railway lines and cars are scrapped, the metal is reused. Oil is often recycled too - it has always happened because it's worth it.

The market made that happen, and if local authorities ran landfills as commercial businesses (not subsidising them directly or indirectly) the market may make more happen.

Tim Worstall said...

Oddly enough my day job is actually in the industry that recycles more than anyone else: the metals industry. We do it, of course, because it is profitable to, but that hasn’t stopped innumerable regulations that make it less so. Sometimes to the point where it becomes uneconomic.

For example, up to the early 90s, the UK had a privately run car battery recycling scheme. Had collection rates well over 90%, no public subsidy at all. The the regulations on the movement of hazardous waste were changed, requiring a form (which had to be paid for to file) for each movement. Some 25 pounds for a movement, which might be 10 batteries with a value of 5 pounds.

Instant collapse of that company and the new scheme has around an 80% recovery rate with a large public subsidy.

Anonymous said...

The sweetcorn example is clearly wrong. Sweetcorn is clearly visible in feces and vomit, sooo it would be like conserving corn by collecting sewage and extracting the yellow bits.

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Anonymous said...

Although you all raise valid points, especially when you mention the economic reasons, it seems that every argument is missing a key element.

recycling may use energy time and money, and those could be considered negatives. It is certainly not a reason not to recycle.

Besides the strip mining, and the lack of infinite resources - what do you propose that we do with all of the waste? At least here in the US we dont have unlimited landfill space, and about 40% of our landfills are full of paper....