Thursday, September 16, 2010

Recycling is Fake

Recycling is simply a fake, and recycling zealots are shameless mountebanks.

In Raleigh, if you follow the "recycling" trucks, you will see that they mostly take the stuff to the landfill. Recycling is too expensive. Rather than saving money, it costs MORE to recycle. And, friends, "costs" means that it uses more resources.

In Toronto, the mayor promised that "Toronto will never burn what you put in the bins." Toronto was so proud of its recycling bins. And composting produces black gold.

1. The "black gold" that was supposed to be compost is actually toxic. That would be fine in a modern landfill, because landfills have to have an impermeable layer, and a thick layer of material to capture and confine the leachate. But since these con artists don't care about the environment, focusing only as symbolic religious ceremonies, they conceal the fact that the "compost" has to be disposed of as if it were hazmat!
2. Toronto, remarkably, tells people to put plastic diapers into the RECYCLING/ORGANIC WASTE stream. There is absolutely no current technology, zero, for composting diapers. They know for a fact it is a lie. This is not a grey area, people.
3. Glass recycling? A sham. An amazingly expensive sham. Listen to what the guy at the facility in charge of "recycling" glass in Colorado has to say.

Oh, and a tasty lagniappe: Toronto kept its word about never burning the material. They send it to... MICHIGAN, and Michigan burns it. They say they will stop doing that at the end of this year. They lie.

(Nod to Pelsmin)


Shawn said...

In my research for a paper in grad school (hey, I can say that now, just got my fresh new diploma yesterday), I visited the landfill in Orange County, FL to learn how they handled their recycling stream. There's lots to say about that here, but the best--err, worst, if you care about actually conserving resources and not kissing your own ass by "recycling"--part, which Orange County seems to have recycled from Toronto, is that due to regulations about what counts as "recycled," the county SHIPS THEIR GROUND GLASS TO ANOTHER COUNTY to use in roadbeds of landfills, rather than just using it in their own landfill.

"This glass isn't recycled if you use it here."
"Hmm...what if we sell it to Seminole County, and they use it in their roadbeds. We can then take theirs of their hands and use it here."
"Ship it to a different county? BRILLIANT!! Watch our diversion rate go up!!"

(note: I don't know whether they sell/buy the glass b/t counties, but it doesn't really matter. Trucking the glass out-of-county does contribute to an increased diversion rate, while using it in-county would not)

MY much more clever notions on how to actually get recycling that works (basically, how to incentivize consumers to conserve scarce resources) were as follows.

1. Remove subsidies to virgin materials extraction that unfairly advantage them over competing recycled resources.

2. Remove mandatory recycling laws that only encourage recycling of products arbitrarily deemed recyclable.

3. Remove all subsidies to the recycling industry that make people mistakenly believe they are saving money by recycling.

4. Allow an open market on purchase of post-consumer waste, where firms would pay varying amounts for only the products that they believe are valued by the manufacturing industry, and are not forced to accept less-than-profitable items.

5. Charge consumers the actual disposal cost for landfilling items.

6. Ensure that all waste disposal regulations are performance standards, rather than standards delineating methods of disposal, thereby allowing increased innovation in the waste disposal industry.

Tom said...

I agree with most of Shawn's points, above, but there's a problem with #5, charging for disposal at the landfill. In my, mostly rural, county in NC, the county had a policy for such charges a few years back. The result was a large increase in road-side dumping. Road-side dumping is illegal, of course, but enforcing that law is a daunting challenge.

Now the county charges for trucks above a certain size, but the common pick-up load is free.

I'd love to hear some ideas on how to charge for something that people can steal at low risk. The British plan (putting cameras everywhere) was -- must be -- heavily subsidized, too.

Shawn said...

Tom, I agree with the dumping problem in rural areas. Here's the expanded thought behind point 5, from my paper (broken up into two posts b/c it's too long).

Point 5: Charge consumers the actual disposal cost for landfilling items.

This notion of charging consumers to throw away their garbage, while perfectly logical, conservation-inducing and welfare-enhancing, is actually a very large problem. In a footnote to his 2006 paper, Kinnaman relates that his research estimated that a full “38 percent of the reduction in waste attributable to unit-pricing [what I am proposing here, where households pay a per-bag or weight-based fee to dispose of non-recyclable trash] may have been dumped in Charlottesville, Virginia” (Kinnaman 2006, 229, note 4). To discourage illegal dumping, Kinnaman and Fullerton conclude that:

Consumption should be taxed at a rate that reflects not the good's disposal cost, but its possible externality from illicit burning or dumping. This tax is then returned as a subsidy on recycling and on proper disposal of garbage, leaving an implicit tax on burning or dumping. The result is a deposit-refund system...but it applies to all consumption goods rather than just bottles or lead-acid batteries (Fullerton and Kinnaman 1994, 80).

While I agree that this may be the cheapest way to discourage dumping, the problem with it, as well as with Kinnaman's recommendation elsewhere of a landfill tax (Kinnaman 2000, 231), is that it further separates the full cost of disposing of an item from Susie. The closer that we can get to making Susie realize that the ketchup bottle in her hand has costs today and costs to throw away tomorrow, and be able to easily quantify those costs, the better. As Calcott and Walls (2000) point out, “setting different tax and subsidy rates for different products would be an administratively costly and politically infeasible alternative” (2000, 15), and therefore, what Susie would see under Fullerton and Kinnaman's dumping-minimization scheme above is an equal price subsidy between virtually useless glass bottles and valuable aluminum bottles. This defeats my stated intent of changing the waste stream into more recyclable materials, and allowing things now considered recyclable, but only just barely so, to fall out of favor with consumers and be abandoned by producers.

Shawn said...

In light of the priority of keeping prices as visible to Susie as possible, I then propose actual pricing of landfilled materials and enforcement of dumping via law enforcement and lawsuit by
landowners against dumpers and neighboring landowners against negligence in allowing dumping. While this may seem costly, it must also be realized that residents obviously place a high value on environmental stewardship, as evidenced by their willingness to support recycling efforts that cost more per ton than standard refuse collection, and would therefore be willing to contribute to charities for prosecution of illegal dumpers. Eventually, the my hope is that dumping would be as stigmatized as general litter, and the mental transition that happened in the US between the 1960s and the 1990s in litter would happen in larger scale illegal household waste dumping, eventually reducing the need for costly lawsuits as residents come to accept and expect to pay directly for the service of landfilling.

As an initial suggestion, I propose that cities provide each household with the average number of bags required on a yearly basis, charging them for the bags up front. Each bag is printed with its cost-to-landfill on the bag, and only provided bags will be accepted by private or public landfills. Residents are allowed to purchase extra bags from the landfill/refuse collector, and to return excess bags for a refund. Secondary markets in the bags are prohibited, and prevented if necessary by technological methods to ensure that households do not sell their stock of bags and dump or burn illegally. If it is desired, bags to poorer residents would be subsidized, though not to a cost of zero, in order to induce conservation. This stock of bags in her drawer with a dollar value clearly shows Susie how much that recyclable or non-recyclable squeezable ketchup bottle costs, and since she has already purchased them, she will be less likely to dump her trash illegally.

kebko said...

There is a very successful recycling program in my town, but it's not called recycling, and the politicians wouldn't ever be able to take credit for it, even though it is a public policy. It's the monthly curbside oversize garbage service. Once a month, we can set out garbage that can't fit in the garbage can. If you set anything out, the next morning, before the city comes to get it, half of it is gone.

The Hayekian wonderland of pickup trucks driving around with unmeasurable amounts of unquantifiable market information behind the wheel, looking for things to pilfer, is breathtaking to consider. They turn my garbage into resources.

Of course, I can't earn righteousness points at cocktail parties for bragging about how much garbage I left on the curb.

Shawn said...

you can only do that once a month, kebko? I used to put stuff out in Orlando the day after garbage came, and sometimes even with a "free" sign in the yard next to it. It'd be gone w/in hours.

Just did it with a dresser in my new apartment building in Boston (but I just put a print-out up, rather than the whole dresser), with a phone number--call w/in 6 hours, gone in 8. Random little things that I know people will want, but aren't worth my time to try selling on craigslist (new wine bottle opener in packaging, new scissors in packaging), I just leave next to the elevator doors, and the recycling fairy comes to spirit them away.