The Real Recycling Myth

Per Bylund of Colliding Softly blog has an article the Dittoheads are all chirping about, The Myth of Recycling, where he derides the Swedish recycling program as “coercive environmentalism”:

This coercive recycling structure is set up in layers, where the consumer (“producer” of waste) gets to do most of the work of sorting, cleaning, and transporting the trash to collection centers. Government-appointed companies then empty the containers and transport the materials to regional centers where the trash is prepared for recycling. And then everything is transported to centralized recycling plants where the materials are prepared for reuse or burning. Finally what is left of the materials is sold to companies and individuals at subsidized prices so that they can make “environmentally friendly” choices.

The Swedish recycling policies, as Bylund describes them, place responsibility on the individual for their waste products. He maintains that such a system of personal responsibility is extremely socialist and bad for the market: “Imagine a whole population spending time and money cleaning their garbage and driving it around the neighborhood rather than working or investing in a productive market!”

So personal responsibility equals socialism, because the government is making Swedes assume responsibility. This leaves full-service government waste management or government-sponsored market-incentives (ie. tax cuts) as the only alternatives. How either of these alternatives is somehow less socialist I leave to the reader to muddle out. Bylund’s point is that recycling is a costly waste of time and does not actually save energy or resources.

Following similar logic in 2002, New York City gave up recycling to save money, only to quickly reinstitute the practice and expand it dramatically. Why? Because recycling saves money, energy, and resources.

The libertarian news magazine The Economist, came to the same conclusion in a recent article:

Extracting metals from ore, in particular, is extremely energy-intensive. Recycling aluminium, for example, can reduce energy consumption by as much as 95%. Savings for other materials are lower but still substantial: about 70% for plastics, 60% for steel, 40% for paper and 30% for glass. Recycling also reduces emissions of pollutants that can cause smog, acid rain and the contamination of waterways.

Is mandatory recycling unfair? Is personal responsibility unfair? Why should everyone who recycles have to pay for the landfill space of people who don’t have the aptitude or motivation to sort their waste into different containers?

Waitaminute! Why the heck are Swedes still sorting their recyclables anyways?!?! Really, what Bylund is complaining about is the inefficiency of the Swedish mandatory recycling system, and that’s all he’s complaining about. In America, we have overcome this sorting hurdle by giving citizens two great big bins, one for recyclables, one for everything else, and let machines sort it out at the plant, in a process known as single-stream recycling, perhaps Bylund should argue for modernizing the Swedish recycling system instead of arguing for recidivism.

That is, unless sorting trash into two bins is still too complicated for Swedes.

: P





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