I have expressed my views on recycling in the past, here for written, here for a podcast.
Nonetheless, we are avid recyclers chez Maison de Mungowitz, I was interested in how (if?) Chileans do it. The reason that question is interesting has to do with basic economics: if recycling saves money and resources, then the first people to recycle would be relatively poor. Poor people can't afford to throw valuable stuff away, right? Whereas rich folks can afford to be profligate. So if recycling saves money, you would expect poor countries to recycle first, and most, yes?
I could not immediately find a source on this, but here is what I did find. First, here are the "top 7 countries" according to the BBC:
Lowest recycling rates: Yemen. Pakistan. Basically all of Africa, outside of South Africa, which has a rate of 18%, and climbing.
Now, my mental regression line calculator is flawed, but I'm pretty sure that these rates do NOT indicate that poor countries recycle first, and more. To the contrary, rich countries recycle first. That means, friends, that recycling emphatically does NOT save money. Instead, recycling lets rich people feel good about themselves, and perhaps does some good for the environment, as a public good reducing pollution and use of landfill space. BUT. IT. DOES. NOT. SAVE. MONEY. (Hey, kids, it might be fun to collect the data and do an actual analysis of the relation between recycling rates and wealth! You could even do it just for US states, or cities!) (UPDATE: A commenter notes I naively reversed the causal arrow. Recycling CAUSES economic development. +1, commenter!)
Anyway, Chile (recycling rate 2%, with a goal of 10%) has a program (here is rather sad web site) for recycling. I'm not making this up. You have to drive (!) to the sites, and wait in line, with your car motor running (see line of cars, at least 200 meters long, out into street, at top left):
Here is a woman, with a baby. I watched. She waited in line, more than five minutes, car motor running, for a spot. She got out, put baby in pack. Went to trunk, got out TWO CARDBOARD BOXES, and put them into containter:
And then when one of the vats is full they pull it out:
And then they put all this valuable material on a truck:
So...why? If recycling does not save money, or resources, and in fact is a big net waste of resources....why?
It is worship, of the secular god Gaia, the Earth Mother. Like any sacrifice, it should be costly. It MUST be costly, in fact, to count as a sacrifice. That's not a recycling facility, it's a church. Once you understand that, it all makes sense.
I just someone would explain it to ME.