Why bother to recycle if recycling gets more expensive?

There’s something about recycling that stops brains from working. Recycling costs money – the sort we’re all urged to do at least does. So, how can we profit from doing something which costs us money? And yes, the land of people standing on their heads suffers from this just as much as the rest of the world. Consider this in The Age:

We can profit from the recycling crisis

This simply cannot be true. China has decided to stop taking Australian rubbish. OK. So, all that rubbish is piling up in Oz because no one’s got a clue what to do with it. More importantly, everyone knows that it will cost more to do something with it than the revenue gained by the doing. That is, it makes a loss. So, how is it possible to make a profit?

And do note this “Jeez Mate, what a loss!” is after the major costs have already been dealt with, the costs of collection and sorting.

There’s no doubt that some recycling or reuse makes sense – we tend not to see Ferraris at the scrapyard for example. And the cars we do see there get melted down into steel to be used again. But there are things which we don’t and shouldn’t recycle. Cement for example. Reuse perhaps, as hardcore for the next building, but actually treating concrete back to cement again? Nonsense. It’s possible but it’s nonsense to do it.

The point all have to grasp is that sure, we want to deal with the rubbish. But recycling is only one option and it’s not, by a long shot, always the correct one. And we’ve a way of telling too:

But China is dealing with its own pollution pressures, and has ceased its role as the world’s biggest dump. This has cut the market price of scrap cardboard by 40 per cent and that of plastic by more than 70 per cent. Scrap paper has become worthless.

If something is worthless then it’s not a resource that needs to be recycled, is it? That is, the price system tells us what we should be doing. If we make a profit recycling then great, that’s as with cars. If we make a loss then we should be sticking the stuff in holes in the ground instead. Not something the world’s major mining nation has a shortage of really, holes. For what that price system is telling us is the number or amount of resources we’ve got to use for each path of action.

More expensive methods are using more resources. Thus, given that the entire aim is to be saving resources here, we should be using the cheapest – and least resource consuming – method for each thing. And often enough, for plastics or paper, that means the hole in the ground, not recycling.

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  1. How can we profit from doing something that costs us money? (1) Use a fake baseline. Compare it to something that costs more money. Impose Pigouvian taxes to “capture social costs” of violating My Value System, and show that it costs less of that money. (2) Call it a “crisis,” as the quoted headline did.