By Nathan Barton
In a recent commentary, I published part of an article by an economics professor, Michael Munger, about recycling and the economics of it.
Dr. Munger rightly points out that modern curbside and drop-off recycling is more a religious ritual than anything else, and that even those firms and entities involved in it are (when honest) willing to admit that.
Not ALL recycling is uneconomical, of course.
Or foolish from an environmental point of view. Most metal recycling (especially aluminum) does more than pay for itself in terms of cash, time, and reduced environmental impact. However, especially in 2019, virtually all other traditional recycling (paper, cardboard, glass, plastic) is incredibly wasteful, generates more NEGATIVE environmental impacts than landfilling, and is very expensive. Some recycled commodities (corrugated cardboard, for example) were once profitable or at least break-even, but changes in markets have doomed it. Unless someone is willing to (or forced to) subsidize it. China and India are both rejecting more and more import of recyclable materials from the West, for many reasons.
So why do we have more and more mandatory recycling? Curbside, drop-off points, material recovery centers, and the rest of the complex and expensive infrastructure necessary to “recover” and “reuse” materials such as glass, plastic, paper, cardboard, and food waste?
Because for decades environists and their allies in government have brainwashed the peoples of North America and Europe into believing lies:
- We are not running out of landfill space in at least 40 of the 50 states (and those 10 or fewer are close to states that have more than enough room and space).
- Recycling, an industrial process to produce new raw materials from what would otherwise be waste, to produce new products, is very seldom economically efficient.
- Recycling is usually a process which has MORE significant negative impacts on the environment than disposal in a landfill – or even burning waste for energy – has. When you look at the total system, including transportation (carbon emissions and other air emissions), water and waste water, and health and environmental issues.
- We are NOT growing desperately short of virgin critical natural resources which can be offset by recycling them. Rather, we are constantly discovering more resources and better, more economical and more environmentally-sound ways of obtaining and using them.
- The free market makes sure that people do NOT do the right things for the environment – therefore, government mandates are necessary.
There are more, but this is a quick summary. Why do they do this?
First, the environists (see my footnote) are themselves brainwashed, religious converts and fanatics who buy what has been taught since the early 1970s. With even LESS justification that their beliefs in manmade global warming and the end of the world as we know it.
Second, recycling has become a major project allowing expansion of government control over its subjects (residents, businesses, visitors), especially by local governments. It is an excuse for draconian measures, increased fees and taxes, and other actions, enforced (ultimately) at the point of a gun.
Third, recycling, like many government programs, is a lucrative source of work (and therefore money and profits) for industries that contract to governments. Just like state-controlled (GRTF) schools (especially lunch programs and busing programs). And just like anything else funded with money stolen from taxpayers.
Fourth, emphasizing the “wisdom” of recycling and the seriousness of the “Solid Waste Crisis” makes it very easy to again blacken the history and reputation of both the United States of America – especially its society – and the free market (capitalism), which are obviously failures if they have all but destroyed the planet. Thus making it easier to implement more and more control “for our own good.”
In other words, this civic religion of recycling follows the same pattern as we’ve seen in government for a long time, including:
- Manmade global warming
- Fears of Russian (and Chinese and North Korean and…) threats against the Fifty States
- The regulatory state in general – particularly land use planning, licensing of professions, regulation of food and drugs, and similar matters.
- Minimum wage and other labor regulation laws
- The war on some drugs
I am sure we could add additional selections to this list.
Recycling CAN be done, and in some cases, it DOES make economic (and social) sense. In a city-state like Singapore (or formerly, Hong Kong) with very limited natural resources and lack of safe and environmentally-sound disposal options, it is very likely to make good sense. Even in states and cities like Rhode Island, Delaware, the entire Boswash Corridor, or Miami, it might also make some sense, if done properly.
But in most of the Fifty States, it is at best an expensive luxury to make people feel better about themselves (maybe). And in many, many areas, it is an unaffordable luxury and nothing more. Places like Monticello, Utah; Custer City, South Dakota; Lusk, Wyoming; and many other rural and frontier communities. Indeed, in places like those, the cost and the air emissions and other environmental costs of recycling plastic, glass, paper, and even cardboard, are far greater than bundling the stuff off to a local landfill. To say nothing of dollars spent.
What created the problem? A government with too much power and politicians that cater to special interests to get votes, along with the idea that government controls the people “for our own good.”
Endnote: “Environist” is a word coined by Angie Many of Hill City, South Dakota, for the majority of “environmentalists” because they are emotional, unable to reason and use logic, and therefore leave “mental” activities out of their position.