Recycling costs an awful lot more than you think it does


As we have noted here many times before, society is in the grip of a collective mania. That we must recycle ever more. If recycling something makes a profit then of course, that should be done: making a profit is the very definition of adding value by your activities. Making a loss is equally, by definition, evidence that the activity is making everyone poorer. Yes, there's also cases where there are externalities, where some effect is not included in market prices. But there's also externalities to this insistence upon recycling everything:

Households have been warned they could end up in court if they fall for a growing criminal industry of “Facebook fly-tippers” who pose online as legitimate waste removal companies but then dump the rubbish on the streets. With fly-tipping rates rising, councils are bringing prosecutions against people who pay a man-with-a-van to remove bulky items of rubbish – only for it to be fly-tipped and then traced back to them. Households have been warned they could be fined up to £5,000 and left with a criminal record if they use what the Government has dubbed “waste cowboys” - even if they pay them in good faith.

All of that, the gangs of white van men, the council actions, the court fees, the bizarre notion of the State scrabbling through the rubbish, are costs of that recycling mania. By raising the costs, for no very good reason other than that mania, it creates, just as with the illegality of drugs leading to smuggling, high excise taxes leading to, err, smuggling, that reaction, of littering the countryside.

And we do not include those costs in our pricing of recycling but we should: just like we should include externalities in any environmental argument.

It should, of course, be possible to design a better system. In fact, at least one of us has seen such in a continental country. Household rubbish, including furniture, building rubble and the rest, is placed beside the usual collection bins beside the roads. People pick over that rubbish for whatever might be of value and recycle it. The rest of it is picked up by the local council and dumped in a hole in the ground.

We even know of one continental town where the mayor adamantly refuses to set up an EU approved recycling scheme. His argument being that they have one, essentially the modern day rag and bone men that perform the function in the private sector.

Government is not, as is sometimes said, the things we do together. It's the things that we do with the compulsion of the State. And where the compulsion is unnecessary, why bother to employ it? Especially where the compulsion raises costs so much that it exacerbates, not alleviates, the original problem?

"All the tradespeople we employ – builders, plumbers, electricians, carpet layers, gardeners, tree surgeons and more – should have a waste carrier licence to take away the rubbish and recycling from the work they do in our homes."

More holes, less recycling, that's what we need to beat fly tipping.