Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Recycle?

Meteuphoric makes a good point about resource trade-offs:

Environmentalism often takes the form of the conviction that human labor should take the place of other resource use. Bikes should be ridden instead of cars, repair is superior to replacement, washing and sorting recycling is better than using up tip space, and so on. This is usually called ‘saving resources’ not ‘using up more valuable resources’. One might argue that while human labor is usually relatively expensive (you can generally make much more selling five minutes of time than a liter of tip space and a couple of cans worth of clean used steel), environmentalists often consider the other resources to be truly more valuable, often because they are non-renewable and need to be shared between everyone in the future too. Even so, since when is it sensible to treat your overvalued resources as if they were worthless? How will resources come to be used more efficiently if those who care about the issue destroy their own potential by donating their most valuable assets to the world at large in the form of the very things which the world supposedly blithely squanders?

I'm not entirely sure how to game this out, but I have often wondered: if recycling, say, is so doggone important, then why do I have to pay* for the priviledge? If the expense of reusing particular resources exceeds the value of those resources on the fair market, then recycling is a waste, pure and simple. If you want to make the point that resource extraction involves externalities or that its price does not fully reflect its cost, then address that. But recycling is something that I should get paid to do.

* Granted, many waste management services make a big show of offering "free" recycling.


Dexter said...

If recycling made economic sense, someone would pay you for the materials. Otherwise it's just an exercise in feelgood Gaianism.

Will S. said...

It indeed is just feelgood Gaianism.

Really, we should bury all metal containers, plastic containers, etc. Shoot, if those materials ever become scarce enough, we can mine landfill sites for them, and THEN recycling will make sense. Till then, we should just fricking throw everything out, and to heck with the guilt-trippers who would have us use tax money to subsidize profitless (for us, that is; not for the government-connected recycling companies) recycling programs.