Recycling a Point About Recycling

by Don Boudreaux on September 19, 2010

in Complexity & Emergence, Environment, Everyday Life, Myths and Fallacies

Here’s a letter to the Boston Globe:

Bravo for Jeff Jacoby’s clear-eyed assessment of recycling (“Get excited about recycling? Not me,” Sept. 19).  When materials are worth recycling, markets for their reuse naturally arise.  For materials with no natural markets for their reuse, the benefits of recycling are less than its costs – and, therefore, government efforts to promote such recycling waste resources.

Everyday experience should teach us this fact.  The benefits of recycling clothing, for example, are large enough to prompt us to buy costly clothes-recycling machines that we routinely use to recycle for tomorrow the clothes we wear today.  We call these machines “washers and dryers.”  And when American families no longer want their clothing, organizations such as Goodwill come by to gather the discarded garments to recycle them for use by poor people.

People also recycle their homes.  The one I own and live in was previously owned by a family who recycled it – which included refurbishing it – rather than simply discarded it when they moved to another town.  Many people also drive recycled (“used”) cars, stock their homes with recycled (“antique”) furniture, listen to recycled (“used”) CDs, and read recycled (“used”) books.

Markets promote conservation when it’s worthwhile; government promotes it when it’s wasteful.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux

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