Monday, December 7, 2009

Recycling reality check

Read the entire article and have your conventional wisdom rocked with a dose of reality
Excerpts: Three Myths about Trash, Mises Daily,by Floy Lilley

1. Are We Running Out of Landfill Space?

Today, 1,654 landfills in 48 states take care of 54 percent of all the solid waste in the country. One-third of them are privately owned. The largest landfill, in Las Vegas, received 3.8 million tons during 2007 at fees within the national range of $24 to $70 per ton. Landfills are no longer a threat to the environment or public health. State-of-the-art landfills, with redundant clay, plastic liners, and leachate collection systems, have now replaced all of our previously unsafe dumps. "We are not running out of landfill space."

Holding all of America's garbage for the next one hundred years would require a space only 255 feet high or deep and 10 miles on a side. Landfills welcome the business. Forty percent of what we recycle ends up there anyway. We are not running out of landfill space.

2. Are We Saving Resources and Protecting the Environment by Recycling?

What are the costs in energy and material resources to recycling as opposed to landfill disposal, which we've just looked at? Which method of handling solid waste uses the least amount of resources as valued by the market? . . .

Overall, curbside recycling's costs run between 35 percent and 55 percent more than other recycling methods, because it uses huge amounts of capital and labor per pound of material recycled. Recycling itself uses three times more resources than does depositing waste in landfills.

... the price for recycling tends to soar far higher than the combined costs of manufacturing raw materials from virgin sources and dumping rubbish into landfills.

... The amount of new growth that occurs each year in forests exceeds by a factor of 20 the amount of wood and paper that is consumed by the world each year.

Glass is made from silica dioxide — that's common beach sand — the most abundant mineral in the crust of the earth. Plastic is derived from petroleum byproducts after fuel is harvested from the raw material. Recycling paper, glass, or plastic is usually not justified compared to the virgin prices of these materials.

... since 1845, the average price of raw materials has fallen roughly 80 percent after adjusting for inflation.

...many states and local communities subsidize recycling programs, either out of tax receipts or out of fees collected for trash disposal.

...Recycling is a manufacturing process, and therefore it too has environmental impact. The US Office of Technology Assessment says that it is "usually not clear whether secondary manufacturing such as recycling produces less pollution per ton of material processed than primary manufacturing processes."

Increased pollution by recycling is particularly apparent in the case of curbside recycling.

Manufacturing paper, glass, and plastic from recycled materials uses appreciably more energy and water, and produces as much or more air pollution, as manufacturing from raw materials does. Resources are not saved and the environment is not protected.

3. Do People Recycle Only When They Are Forced To?

. . . private recycling is the world's second oldest, if not the oldest, profession. Recyclers were just called scavengers. Everything of value has always been recycled. You will automatically know that something is of value when someone offers to buy it from you, or you see people picking through your waste or diving into dumpsters.

Recycling is a long-practiced, productive, indeed essential, element of the market system. Informed, voluntary recycling conserves resources and raises our wealth, enabling us to achieve valued ends that would otherwise be impossible. So yes, people do recycle even when they are not forced to do so. . .

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