Things that are cheaper use fewer resources

This is not what Greenpeace thinks it is saying of course but it is the underlying meaning of what they say. Recycling uses more resources than not recycling, therefore we should stop recycling – the aim is to save resources isn’t it? The trick that they’re missing here is that the price system tells them and us this. We only have to look at those prices to see that recycling uses more resources:

According to Alexei Kiselev, head of the Greenpeace Russia toxic program, Moscow has the biogas facilities to process food waste as well as 432 recycling plants which could handle the rest.

He thinks Moscow could easily sort its trash and recycle if there was the political will to do so. But there isn’t.

It is far cheaper to dump or burn waste than it is to separate and recycle it. Existing contracts with garbage suppliers are structured with that in mind and there’s no desire from the powers that be it seems to change that.

A price reflects the resources that have to be used to produce the good or service, conduct the activity. That’s how we reach the costs side of a business after all – we use this much labour, this much land, that capital, these machines, some energy and so on. We add up all the prices of those and that’s the cost of doing whatever. It’s also the measure of the resources being used – for all of those things, land, labour, capital, they’re economic resources.

This is useful little feature of market systems and prices. We can just look a the cost of something and see where it ranks in resource use. Something that’s cheaper will use less – or fewer. So, given that recycling is more expensive than landfill or incineration therefore recycling uses more resources. Given that we’re trying to save resources here we should therefore stop recycling.

Sorry, no, shouting that there’s a value in the materials recycled doesn’t work. If the value of that recycling were greater than the resources necessary to do it then you’d be making a profit, wouldn’t you? Are you? Well then.

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  1. Surely there is an answer here. Greenpeace think refuse has positive value. Those disposing of it think it has negative value. Hence gift it all to Greenpeace. They get to profit out of what to them is valuable stuff. Everyone else gains by getting rid of it. Everyone is richer and happier.

    • Yes, indeed, and a lifetime of sorting the polypropylene and polyethylene parts of other people’s rubbish, because they can’t bear to just cast both into the same firepit, is a fitting outcome for the Greens.

    • That’s the problem. At the moment, most waste you can’t even give away, metal being the exception. I have an entire server room of electronic waste to get rid of. The scrap metal dealers are not a bit interested because of the time and labour required to separate the metals from the plastic etc.

    • There was a warehouse down the street that used to take this stuff, but not for free. They shrink-wrapped it and put it on pallets…for China. There are dozens of African nations that could step up to fill this niche, if the walk-before-you-crawl nations don’t legislate it out of existence.

      Separately, my town’s Recycling Committee claims to turn a profit from paper and plastic. What they mean is that their revenue is positive. They proudly value the cost of their own time at zero. This is volunteerism that will peter out, but by then, mandates will be in place and we’ll have to pay for yet another worthless service.