Flat White

Recycling is rubbish

27 February 2018

7:28 AM

27 February 2018

7:28 AM

Recycling is rubbish. Not in the sense that the stuff we recycle is rubbish – which it is, of course – but in the sense that the whole rationale and efficiency of recycling is nonsense. It doesn’t work and it compounds the problem it’s supposed to fix. This is counter-intuitive to what most people believe because we suffer a zeitgeist where recycling is portrayed as both good and necessary.

People have always recycled but, until recently, only those resources that were worth more to retain than to throw away. Goods lose value over time, and new goods, which are more efficient and cheaper to produce, take their place. This is determined in a modern economy by something that hides in plain sight. The price system facilitates what is valuable to people. It allocates, in the oft-quoted phrase of economics, scarce resources to where they are most needed. It also allocates resources to where they are used most efficiently. This is the crux of the problem. Recycling uses more resources – materials, time, labour, fossil fuels – than the market would allocate in a normal transaction.

In a market economy, goods and services are cut to the bone to create value. The customer buys goods at the lowest price and the highest quality – while the producer sells at the lowest price. Less of everything is used by both the customer and the producer. If recycling made sense, people would recycle as seamlessly as they perform every other financial exchange in their daily lives – and recycling would be as natural and profitable as other transactions. The environmental coercion and emotional blackmail endemic in our culture would be superfluous.

People, who are natural entrepreneurs, would jump at the chance to make money, spend less and improve the lives of themselves and their families. And people, unless they suffer from a psychological illness, always want to improve their material circumstances, because human needs and desires can never be sated. In fact, such would be the incentive to recycle that thieves, sensing an opportunity to make easy money, would steal recycled goods to sell for profit, just as they do with copper, which requires no wheelie bins or local government collection services. Instead of throwing away what we don’t want and which nobody else wants – otherwise people would buy our waste for profit – we’ve created an industry based on emotionally charged rhetoric devoid of reason or common sense.

What do we do with the waste that human beings produce? Simple. Throw it away. To put this in perspective, all of the waste produced in America for the next 100 years could be put in one landfill site 76.2 metres deep by 10 kilometres square. This includes what is biodegradable and what can be profitably recycled. And landfills are safe for the environment. Modern technology has fixed the environmental problems of landfill sites. And when a landfill site has served its usefulness we can turn it into a park or a nature reserve or a new suburb.

There are three broad categories of waste. Both biodegradable waste and non-dangerous biodegradable waste can be dumped in landfill sites. If a private company can, at a profit, recycle something from these two types of waste, all to the good. But only if the price system determines that it’s profitable; in other words, that it uses fewer resources and is more efficient than just simply dumping the waste in landfill. The third category is dangerous waste, which harms humans, animals or the environment. This type of waste can be controlled by law. Make it illegal to use, transport or store dangerous waste in ways that are harmful.

Prices reflect the life decisions of countless individuals. They are, simply put, the most democratic invention in history. The asinine slogan “people before profit” or the idea that individuals trying to improve their circumstances are putting greed before the planet is disingenuous propaganda. The market is just the collective decisions of countless people living in freedom.

Capitalist, liberal democracies are the least environmentally damaging countries in the world. It’s third world, socialist countries that damage the environment – they don’t have a price system, they are inefficient and they take control out of the hands of individuals. Nobody has skin in the game. And nobody cares. And they don’t have the resources that only capitalism can create to manage waste. It’s the tragedy of the commons writ large.

People buy what they value at the lowest price. Interfering in this process, other than to deflect genuine harm is forcing people to live by other people’s values, which by their actions – what they buy and sell – they already reject. Environmentalism is inherently undemocratic. It’s irrationalism defined by virtue signalling.

Capitalism is to prosperity what liberal democracy is to freedom. It’s the space where people live according to their own values, free from the interference of moralists who believe that their beliefs supersede those of other people. It’s also the most efficient system for using resources.

Beware of the snake-oil salesmen of the environmental movement. They don’t have your, or the environment’s, interests at heart. Otherwise, they’d try to understand something – -n fact, at this stage, anything – about economics.

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