The Mises Institute monthly, free with
Volume 13, Number 12
Don't Recycle: Throw It
Roy E. Cordato
Recycling has a high moral status, mostly because kids come home with bad
information from schools and, in turn, use it to intimidate their parents. One
poll revealed that 63% of kids have told Mom or Dad to recycle.
Parents, be ashamed no more! Throw that trash away. There's no virtue in
recycling trash that the market won't pay you for. What our kids are learning is
grounded in left-wing ideology, not fact or science.
One argument for recycling is that we are running out of landfill space. A
"public service" advertisement on Nickelodeon shows images of a city being
buried in its own trash. This is typical of what passes for environmental
education. Just as hysterical are American Education Publishing's "Comprehensive
Curriculum" series and 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do To Save the Earth.
In fact, there is no landfill shortage. If all the solid waste for the next
thousand years were put into a single space, it would take up 44 miles
of landfill, a mere .01% of the U.S. landspace.
How about the claim that recycling paper saves trees? Every school kid knows
it does. Paper is made from trees. Why not make new paper from old paper and
save more trees from being cut down?
Actually, that doesn't work. Supply meets demand. If tomorrow we suddenly
stopped making bread from wheat, there would be less wheat in the world one year
from now. The supply would have fallen drastically. If everyone stopped eating
chicken, the chicken population would not grow but fall.
The same logic applies to the relationship between paper and trees. If we
stopped using paper, there would be fewer trees planted. In the paper industry,
87% of the trees used are planted to produce paper. For every 13 trees "saved"
by recycling, 87 will never get planted. It is because of the demand for paper
that the number of trees has been increasing in this country for the last fifty
years. The lesson is this: if your goal is to maximize the number of trees,
Others assertions made by recycling advocates are equally problematic.
Recycling doesn't save resources. In general, recycling is more expensive than
landfilling, with the only exception being aluminum. As former EPA official J.
Winston Porter admitted, "trash management is becoming much more costly due
to...the generally high cost of recycling."
Children are also told that recycling will reduce pollution. They are not
told that the recycling process itself generates a great deal of pollution.
Recycling newspapers requires old ink to be bleached from the pages. This is a
chemically intensive process that generates large amounts of toxic waste, as
opposed to the benign waste that would result from simply throwing the papers
Also, curbside recycling programs require more trash pickups per week. This
means more trucks on the road generating more air pollution. Due to mandatory
recycling, New York City had to add two additional pickups per week and Los
Angeles has had to double its fleet of trash trucks.
The recyclers have a much more ambitious agenda than they admit to children
in public schools. In Waste Management: Towards a Sustainable Society,
O.P. Kharband and E.A. Stallworthy even complain that builders throw away bent
nails and that hospitals use disposable syringes. "The so-called 'standard of
living,'" they conclude "has to be reduced."
Here we have the real goal of the recycling elite. And tragically this
reduction in living standards has been achieved in the many cities that bought
monstrously expensive recycling plants leading to fantastic waste, high taxes,
and financially crippled local governments.
Recyclers are not better citizens. They are just ill-informed. Save the
earth, save the trees, stop pollution, and this holiday season, unwrap those
presents, stuff the paper in a big plastic bag, and throw it all away.
Roy E. Cordato teaches Economics at Campbell University