Apparently we're simply not recycling enough these days:
Every home in the country will have to cope with compulsory rubbish recycling schemes by next year, according to papers released by ministers yesterday. Instructions prepared for councils have revealed a move to bring in separate collections of paper, metal, plastic and glass in order to meet recycling targets set by Brussels. This will mean that many homes will need more bins and any local councils which have clung to traditional weekly bin rounds – there are thought to be around 100 in England and Wales – will have to establish compulsory recycling systems.
We can and should divide recycling into three different and distinct tyeps. There's the recycling that makes a profit at standard market prices. We've been reycling gold on these grounds for many millennia now, old cars are melted down to make new ones and so on. That there's a profit to made in doing this shows that value is added by doing it: the addition of more value meaning that we're all getting richer. This is fine, in fact it's just great.
Then there's recycling that costs vastly more than is gained from having done it. You can recycle just about anything if you expend enough energy on it but no one would advise trying to turn used concrete back into Portland cement. Better by far to bake some more cement and put the rubble into the hole we've just dug.
There's also the class of things where the pure market numbers don't provide a profit but we'd like to recycle for other reasons. When there's an externality perhaps. Cleaning up a radioative waste site might not be profitable for the metals extracted from it but it could still be something we want to do anyway.
The danger is that we get confused about those possible other reasons. And then end up deciding that we should pursue that second, highl;y detrimental, type of recycling. And that's where the "recycle everything" movement is today. It's become an almost religious observation, one that's continent wide, that recycling stuff is a good thing to do in and of itself. But there's no actual reason to do this. There's no shortage of holes in the ground to put landfill into, only a shortage of licenced holes. There's no general shortage of resources for us to make new stuff from. But we are told that we must recycle ever more material, well, just because we must recycle ever more material.
We should take a step back from this sort of emotional observance and recycle only that which makes a profit. But trying to be rational about even secular religions never does get us very far, does it?